After hours of discussion on Wednesday, Aug. 7, the Indian Trail Improvement District Board of Supervisors rescinded its prior designation of $3.7 million to build a community center at Acreage Community Park.
It was the latest chapter in a decade-long debate over whether a community center is needed in The Acreage, and if ITID is the proper organization to build and operate it.
After years of discussion, the community center appeared to be on the verge of reality last year, until Tropical Storm Isaac and a sharply contested election refocused ITID on drainage issues.
After hearing hours of input from residents on what ITID’s priorities should be, supervisors last week scrapped plans for the building and decided instead to refocus on drainage improvements.
However, the board did agree to get cost estimates for additional outdoor park amenities, including more athletic fields, and see how much of the work could be done in-house.
ITID Attorney Mary Viator said the $3.7 million was a payment from the county for the district’s utility rights and was not from resident assessments. “I think right now it is set aside, designated more for a community center,” she said.
Supervisor Michelle Damone, who has long favored building a community center, clarified that the money was designated for capital improvements, which included a community center.
Supervisor Gary Dunkley, who was elected on a pledge to improve drainage in The Acreage, made a motion to un-designate the money and conduct a cost analysis for development of fields and other outdoor amenities.
ITID President Jennifer Hager asked whether the board could move the money to an undesignated fund so they could address drainage issues, but possibly start the park expansion with ITID’s own staff working on athletic fields.
Supervisor Carol Jacobs said she was ready to scrap plans for the community center immediately and build athletic fields without tapping into the $3.7 million.
“We have men right now,” Jacobs said. “We can start doing stuff over there that doesn’t even need to come out of that money. There’s a lot in-house that can be done and get kids on those fields.”
Jacobs asked whether recreational matching grants the district has attained for the project can go to purposes other than the community center, such as field lights. “We need to get going, and we need to work on it,” she said.
Acting District Administrator Jim Shallman said the grant money could be used for purposes other than the community center as long as they were recreation related.
Dunkley’s motion to undesignate the $3.7 million carried 3-1, with Damone opposed. Supervisor Ralph Bair, another proponent of the community center, had left the meeting.
“I am strongly opposed,” Damone said. “Since I was 27 years old, I have been supporting the community center, and I have not done anything in my tenure with this district to not support the community center.”
Jacobs then made a motion to scrap the community center and move ahead immediately with development of outdoor amenities.
Dunkley seconded the motion, but pointed out that they still do not have a cost analysis for outdoor amenities. Jacobs said she was confident they could move ahead with field development before a cost analysis is completed.
“We can make a couple of fields,” she said. “We can afford that.”
Jacobs’ motion also carried 3-1, with Damone voting no.
Hager said a community center had never been high on her priorities list.
“Right now is not a good time,” she said. “People have been saying, ‘For all these years we have been promised a community center, we’ve been promised fields.’ Now is not the time. We cannot do it right now. With respect to Michelle wanting a community center and you guys wanting fields, I think that’s a happy medium compromise. I still don’t even know if I want that, but the fields will at least provide the kids with more space to play their sports.”
Hager added that she thought a community center might be a possibility at some point. “No one said, ‘Don’t come back in a few years.’ We’re trying to compromise with a solution for every resident,” she said.
During public input, resident Linda Knox favored using the money available to build a community center.
“It has been about 16 years now looking at dirt,” Knox said. “We have the grant money; let’s use it. I’m tired of all the excuses. We have children out here. We have more than mortgages, houses and drainage. We need something for the children besides breaking into cars and houses. We need a civic center, arts, crafts, theater, you name it; something for our children.”
Former Supervisor Sandra Love-Semande said drainage should be the district’s main priority but that parks are also important. “I feel this board has an opportunity to work with staff and our professionals to be able to possibly do both, and that’s what I would see move forward,” she said.
Damone read e-mails from residents favoring the community center, including one from Seminole Ridge High School coach Scott O’Hara pointing out that the Acreage Athletic League has an excellent girls flag football team that feeds the state championship high school flag football team, but he sees girls entering high school who lack basic skills in basketball and volleyball.
“We can’t afford not to build the Acreage Community Center,” O’Hara wrote. “Is it any wonder that our very own Seminole Ridge varsity flag football program has brought so much pride to this community by winning the state championship the last three out of four years? Yet as a varsity basketball and volleyball coach, I find it incredibly difficult for our players to compete against even local competition. While many of our state championship flag football players are the same girls who play basketball and volleyball, our players come to high school lacking basic basketball and volleyball skills.”
Bair asked what the annual cost would be to operate a community center, and Shallman said the estimates were $450,000 to $500,000 a year.
“Nobody really knows what the actual operating expenses are going to be,” Shallman said, adding that no cost estimates had been done for Phase 2, which is the outdoor amenities, including athletic fields, courts, trails and a possible splash park, BMX track and/or amphitheater.
Damone said the maintenance cost for a community center would come to about $26 a year per household.
Resident Anne Kuhl thought the maintenance costs for a community center were too high.
“I don’t want to see us get into a jam,” Kuhl said. “We also have a debt. We’re going to get to a point that we’re going to have to raise our taxes. What if the flood insurance [map changes] go through? That could be another $600 to $800 a year for our families out here for flood insurance. Twenty-six dollars, sure, that’s a best-case scenario. It could be $200, and it’s going to go up. It’s not going to go down.”
ABOVE: The ITID Board of Supervisors.