When winter’s chill makes the mercury drop, South Burlington residents could still feel the burn inside a proposed indoor recreational facility. 

On Monday, city councilors approved City Manager Kevin Dorn to negotiate a contract for design on an indoor recreation center with Freeman French Freeman Architects. The firm was selected from six applicants who replied to the city’s request for proposals last month. The new design will flesh out an initial conceptual design and will also seek public input. The designs will likely cost $175,000. The funds will come from the Recreation and Parks budget. 

“We’re really excited,” recreation and parks committee member and former chair Jennifer Kochman said. “For the 12 years I’ve been on this committee it is something that has been needed.” 

Dore and Whittier Architects created a conceptual design for just under $10,000 last December. It called for a roughly 60,000 square-foot, recreational center with three basketball courts, a turf field, indoor track, program space, public restrooms and offices for recreation and parks staff. The plan situated the facility in Veterans Memorial Park next to Cairns Arena. 

A very preliminary cost estimate for a stick-built design, including equipment and furnishings was $19,700,645, but City Manager Kevin Dorn said that cost estimates were difficult to set at the concept level. 

“We really did not get a solid or even a close number for what the cost would be for that,” he told councilors.

City officials had hoped to fund the proposed space, in part, with proceeds raised via a local option tax that was presented to voters on Town Meeting Day. The local option tax would have raised local sales tax by 1 percent on limited purpose sales, rooms, meals and alcoholic beverages. However, the measure failed 1,458-1,158. 

The city first researched and identified need for an indoor recreation space in 1998, according to the 2018 Recreation and Parks Annual Report. But the idea was not formally presented to voters. Rather, it was shelved until last December when the Recreation and Parks Committee recommended the project to the city council. Although the local option tax – which would have supported multiple projects – failed, a direct vote on the indoor recreation facility and its conceptual design was not taken.

Kochman wrote a supporting letter included in the councilor’s packet Monday night, reiterating that an indoor recreation space is necessary for the city residents.

“Indoor recreation space is a critical need,” she wrote. “The winters are long; many people would like to use indoor fitness facilities, but can’t afford a club.”

“There is a long-time identified and significant need,” councilor David Kaufman told The Other Paper. “And support from the community, and demand from the community.”

He added that recent public requests for indoor recreational space brought the proposal back onto the city’s priority list. 

Next steps will include negotiating the contract for design with Freeman French Freeman. The firm will create a more detailed design, including public input and suggestions. Then, the design would be presented to the councilors who could opt to bring it to the public for a vote. If the design passed muster with voters, the city would obtain a final design. 

During the meeting councilor Tim Barritt asked Dorn what the difference would be between the new design and the one Dore and Whittier created last year. Dorn explained that public outreach would help confirm community needs and programs for the space. 

Deputy City Manager Tom Hubbard added that the new plans would also be more detailed regarding cost and design.

“Any time you do an infrastructure project you do a pre-scope and then you scope it, you really get into the finer details and confirm the design the layout and the cost,” Hubbard said. “I would liken the Dore Whittier to the pre-scope and this project more to the scope.”

Moreover, Dorn said that Dore and Whittier’s design served to answer the question of whether  an inflatable, rigid inflatable or traditional building would best suit the community. The consensus was a traditional building would be the best long-term value for the community. But, Dorn said, that could be tested again. 

Also during the conversation, Chair Helen Riehle said she was concerned about how the recreation facility project would be perceived by the school board given their master visioning work. The South Burlington School Board is looking to create a new high school/middle school space and may call for a bond vote on the Town Meeting day 2020 ballot.

“I just recognize the sensitivity of this moment when they are really grappling with what they are going to present for a new high school, or refurbished schools,” Riehle said. “I also believe we’ve done a lot of work as a community and had lots of discussions about the need for recreational facility. So this isn’t kind of a shot in the dark.”

The project’s timing could also coincide with a proposed addition to Cairns Arena --also located in Veterans Memorial Park. Cairns Arena may soon break ground on a new entrance, cafeteria and office project near its existing rinks, according to Kaufman.  The Other Paper reached out to Cairns Arena Manager Bob L’Ecuyer for additional information but he was out of the office and unable to reply to an email by the paper’s deadline. 

“We’re really excited about that and the collaboration it could bring with Cairns Arena,” said Recreation and Parks Director Holly Rees said. “There’s definitely a desire to have connectivity to that building.”

But, Rees added, the city is still in the initial stages of the proposed project. The new designs are still  just that. A final project would be voted on later.

“It’s very important we meet the needs of the community,” she said. “We want to be really responsive to what the public [suggests].”

We use a Facebook Comments Plugin for commenting. No personal harassment, abuse or hate speech is permitted. Comments should be 1000 characters or fewer. We moderate every comment. Please go to our Terms of Use/Privacy Policy "Posting Rules and Interactivity" for more information.

Reliable news and information is vitally important. Local advertising has been affected by the COVID-19 crisis but the Vermont Community Newspaper Group remains committed to its responsibility to serve its communities. Your communities. With some assistance from loyal readers, community organizations, foundations and other funders, we hope to keep reporters on the job keeping you informed. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to our local journalism fund. Thank you for your support.