Last year, Waterbury residents dreamed about the future of their town. One idea: Build a community center.
That started thinking and research that have produced a proposal for a building, a good location, and a budget.
The question: Do taxpayers want the dream to become real?
At a community center update last week, Steve Lotspeich, Waterbury’s community planner, and gbA Architecture briefed 25 residents on what they’ve come up with. The summary: A community center would be a great addition to the town, but it would be expensive — just over $11 million to build, and then an annual budget to operate it. The best location is in Anderson Park, behind the town post office and next to the swimming pool. Tenants could include the Waterbury Area Senior Center, the town recreation program, The Children’s Room, with other space for public use.
So, now what?
The dream has already been pared down considerably — from two stories to just one story, 26,000 square feet instead of 34,000 — “because anything we could do to economize was working in the right direction,” Lotspeich said. The cost estimate for the building is $11,373,017.
Gone are a fitness center and a multipurpose room, and other rooms were scaled down to cut construction costs.
“The idea is to share space,” said Tom Bachman, a founder of gbA. “We got rid of the second floor and that makes it much easier for some of these spaces to interact.”
But price was very much a part of the discussion that followed.
State Rep. Theresa Wood, D-Waterbury, suggested that the town look at where it is now, and what’s coming down the road. The town is still paying for two new fire stations, a new municipal building, and a Harwood Union school bond may be on the horizon, she said. “There’s a number of variables here.”
Chris Viens, select board chair, said Waterbury has found ways to economize in the past. He opposed a fire station bond about a decade ago because the cost was too high, but then worked with Kim Brown Projects and Dan Sweeney, a local contractor, and the town and village fire chiefs to come up with a new plan for a fire station in Waterbury Center.
“Of the $5.8 million that bond amounted to, $2.5 million was for the Waterbury Center station,” Viens said, “We threw a proposal in front of (the board) for a nicer looking building, with more usable space and more functional, for $690,000 and change. … That’s how things can happen.”
Viens said Waterbury already faces road and bridge needs that have to be taken into consideration.
“To Theresa’s point, timing is an issue,” he said. “I wouldn’t scratch it off the table, but, timing-wise, I don’t think this is the right time for it.”
Lotspeich agreed, saying projects like this take time — even on a short timeline, at least a decade.
“If this is going to take hold,
it will go through a long evolutionary process with lots of opportunity for community input,” Lotspeich said.
As the hearing wrapped up, David Luce, a retired architect, spoke up. “I would like to say that I appreciate the planning that has gone into this,” he said, “I think we have a good, basic plan for a dream. This is a dream. The 10-year timeline doesn’t scare me a bit; it took us 30 years to get this library.” The crowd laughed, and he continued: “Sometimes the additional time is good. Things change, our needs change, and the community dynamic and demographic changes.”
He said taxes are an issue: “We need the bridges, we need the schools, we need the fire stations, absolutely. But we also need things for the soul and the growth of people, and this is the kind of thing that adds to the quality of life.”
After the meeting, Lotspeich said he was happy with how it went.
“There was a really good, wide range of comments,” he said. “It was a really good thorough discussion.”
The feasibility study is almost complete, and Lotspeich said he’ll present it to the select board in March.
“It’s like planting a seed,” he said. “We’ll see how it will root.”