Our View: Council backing into a mistake

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Forgive the sound of our broken record, but the City Council's site selection for a new community center continues to confound us.

On Tuesday, the council voted to build a $1.5 million community center at the Stock Bridge Multi-Modal Transit Center west of town. But it may have been the most back-handed vote in history -- no one on the council seemed happy with the proposal.

Paul Strong called it financially irresponsible. Loui Antonucci said he did not like the Stock Bridge site and that he felt like he was "throwing $1.5 million away." Ken Brenner wanted to look for an alternative. Kevin Kaminski and Steve Ivancie wanted to build a bigger community center. Yet there they were -- Strong, Antonucci, Brenner, Kaminski and Ivancie -- voting to approve a plan none liked.

Towny Anderson and Susan Dellinger are the only ones who seemed willing to vote the way they felt -- against the plan.

The council members' collective reservation is a huge red flag. If there is so much cause for concern with the Stock Bridge site, why move forward?

We presume that council members voted the way they did because they felt pressure to get the community center decision resolved so the Bud Werner Memorial Library can move forward with its expansion. The current community center must be demolished to allow for the library expansion voters approved last fall. The City Council promised it would replace the community center before the old one is torn down.

The council is operating under the presumption that it must have a new community center built by July 2007 so that the library can start construction then. Any delays could affect the library's bond funding.

But as we have said before, why not find a temporary site for the community center and allow the library to proceed with its expansion plans? The council wouldn't be reneging on its promise; rather, it simply would be taking the time necessary to make sure the right facility is built at the right site without duplicating efforts elsewhere.

The community center is not a complicated complex. It is a large meeting room with an industrial kitchen. As we have said before, there are a variety of facilities in the city that can fill this need on a temporary basis. That would allow the community to work through a couple of issues over the next 18 months that could have an impact on the community center. Those issues include:

A proposed recreation center that, as drawn, includes plans for a multi-generational, multi-use room and adjacent kitchen that could serve as a community center.

The construction of a new Soda Creek Elementary School, which could free up the George P. Sauer Human Services Center on Seventh Street as a community center site.

There are merits to both of the aforementioned plans, though it's too early to back one definitively. But if the city spends millions on a permanent facility at the Stock Bridge site, it will undercut any chance to develop a comprehensive facility plan to meet the broadest community need as efficiently as possible.

If you listened to what they said, council members seemed to understand that there is probably a better option than the Stock Bridge site. It's too bad they didn't listen to their own voices.

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