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Council Weighs Rec Center Estimates

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Preliminary estimates to renovate the Barre Street Recreational Center to create more usable space and place the building in compliance with federal accessibility laws range from $3.9 to $4.7 million. The Rec Center building at 55 Barre Street is nearly 90 years old and is underutilized, in part, because it does not meet the standards required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

City Councilors last week had their first look at design options and cost estimates prepared by architects with Bread Loaf Corp. in Middlebury. Bread Loaf presented the Council with two initial options, the first of which is a basic concept that includes an elevator with street-level access, updated HVAC systems, removal of hazardous materials such as asbestos and lead from the former shooting range, a new gym floor, men’s and women’s locker rooms, basement workout spaces for exercise classes, weights, and cardio, and rooms on the top floor for offices, meetings, and other uses. The estimate for option one is $3,909,000, including most (but not all) fees and fixed owner costs.

The second option includes the above plus the cost of exercise equipment, HVAC systems with greater energy efficiency, backup generators, lighting improvements, a canopy over the front stairs, replacement of the basement slab, tile in the bathrooms and showers, and a new roof on the east side of the building. The cost estimate for the upgraded project is $4,722,000, including most fees and fixed costs.

The elevator access would be placed at the basement level next to the existing stairs with users then being lifted to the gymnasium and second floor levels, providing access to all of the building’s spaces. The lack of ADA compliance blocks the city from advertising and holding many events at the Rec Center.

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The estimates include $100,000 for testing and removal of hazardous material, a sum that could vary depending on the type and amount found. The basement was home to a target shooting range as recently as 2017, and the walls contain an untold amount of lead slugs. The 1932 building also contains asbestos, once commonly used as pipe insulation.

The proposed new competition gym floor would feature a hardwood surface supported by a shock-absorbing cushion layer to ease the strain on human joints while providing a solid, consistent playing area, according to the manufacturer’s website (Robbins Sports Surfaces Biochannel floor).

Councilors were generally receptive to the proposal, but Mayor Anne Watson requested that the architects provide estimates for making the building carbon neutral as part of the city’s Net Zero energy plan.

She also suggested adding solar panels and Tesla-type battery backup that could power the structure in case of an outage, perhaps making it useful as a public shelter in the event of a flood or blizzard. These revisions will likely add to the construction cost but could lower energy costs.

“There are lots of ways to approach a building to make it efficient and renewable-heated,” Watson said. “I’m not sure which options will emerge as the best options for us.”

John Dale, senior architect at Bread Loaf, said he would try to gather new cost estimates before the next council meeting on December 11. Once the city staff has received updated estimates for the modified project it will present its recommendation to the Council, Assistant City Manager Cameron Niedermayer said.

Niedermayer said the city would pursue other sources of funding for the project, such as federal grants or corporate partnerships, before setting a bond vote. It is uncertain whether a decision will be made in time to put a bond vote on the Town Meeting Day ballot in March.

“We want to take our time with this process and make a good, well-informed decision, so we’ll let the process play out, and if it’s done in time for Town Meeting Day, then great, otherwise, no rush,” Watson said.

The city conducted a survey of 3,000 residents last year asking how much residents use the recreation facility and what they would like to see added. Only 22 percent of respondents said they or their families had used the facility in the past year, with many citing the lack of programs and facilities for exercise and yoga instruction. A majority of respondents also wished for an aquatic center for swimming, but most were not comfortable with a city-owned facility costing upward of $20 million.

The renovated Rec Center would add four separate areas for exercise on the basement level and multi-purpose rooms on the top floor.

“This is coming from a place of real need,” Niedermayer said. “It’s a real opportunity to utilize the space we already have that is not being used. We need to serve the community and this building (as is) doesn’t.”

Tom Brown is contributing editor of The Bridge. ..... You can contact him at tom@montpelierbridge.com