Selectmen Hear Options On New Recreation Department Space

The Westford Recreation Department needs to leave its home at the Town Farm Building, but work still remains before it can move somewhere else.

Parks and Recreation Committee Chairman Kevin Caviston and Recreation Department Assistant Director Sandra Habe provided an overview report to the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday giving rough estimates on what would be needed for the move.

The title slide from the Feb. 9 Recreation Department presentation

The title slide from the Feb. 9 Recreation Department presentation

Within the report, Habe presented three major options. The first would be finding a location to lease out, which she estimated would cost the town $374,000 a year at the expected average price of $17 per sq. ft, or the amount duplicating its current 22,000 sq. ft. footprint at Town Farm.

However, within the department’s master plan, hopes for additional services such as a potential swimming facility and fitness center among others have been discussed. In that master plan, the department hopes to grow into what could eventually become a 100,000 sq. ft facility.

The second option would be to purchase a building, with the now vacant Courier building almost directly across the street on Town Farm Road mentioned in the report.

Habe estimated the potential cost for that building to be at $7 million. She also indicated that a 20-year bond for the building in a worst case scenario would be $41,500 per month for 20 years, or approximately $10,000 more per month than the average lease scenario until the bond is paid off.

The third option provided a possible combination of the first two options through an unspecified public/private partnership of some kind. One possibility in this route included working with Abbot Mill developer Chris Yule, who has expressed interest in the future of the Courier property, which is adjacent to Phase 2 of the Abbot Mill project.

In the past, the Board of Selectmen have expressed a desire that the Recreation Department become financially self-sustaining, and Habe gave a list of projected revenue for a potential “civic center” adding up to just over $1 million annually, as well as just over $450,000 in annual income for recreational other recreational programs and facility rentals.

In addition, Habe noted that a new facility could also provide space for other town departments that either currently need a more permanent space, such as the School Department, or departments that will need more space in the near future as renovations begin, such as the Roudenbush Center and the J.V. Fletcher Library.

All of the Selectmen agreed that the Recreation Department needed to leave the Town Farm Building, which currently needs $3.5 million in renovations according to Westford’s 2014 Townwide Facility Study. However, they also agreed that much more work is needed before a long term solution can be discussed.

Two articles are on the April 2 Annual Town Meeting ballot about the future move: Article 13, which would authorize $7 million to acquire a building suitable for recreation and civic facilities and Article 14, which would authorize $1.1 million for the lease of a building.

Both articles were put onto the warrant for the sake of discussion, but there was little support for acquiring a building in the near future.

“We cannot put an article on (the) Town Meeting (warrant _on April 2nd asking for ‘x’ amount of money to buy a building we have no idea where, what, how, or anything about it,” said Selectman Andrea Peraner-Sweet. “We will be laughed out of the room for goodness sakes.”

Although a July 1, 2016 deadline was put in place for the task force investigating moving possibilities after the 2014 facility study, the Selectmen believed that presenting a plan for the near term by July 1 would be acceptable, with some support coming in for a leasing plan once more information can be provided.

Additionally, a longer term plan would likely be discussed over the next 18 to 24 months, although it would remain uncertain when a new permanent facility would be constructed due to potentially six to 12 large municipal buildings expected to enter planning and construction over the next five years.

The Selectmen indicated that prioritization of those buildings, which could include the new civic center, would be a topic of discussion at the town’s annual Strategic Planning Retreat to be held this summer.

No determination was made on the two warrant articles, although it was noted that they could potentially be amended or removed from the Town Meeting warrant prior to April 2.