The citizens of Fairmont voted in 2016 for a one-half of one cent sales tax, to generate up to $15 million "for the purpose of funding recreational amenities, trails and/or a Fairmont Community Center”. Over the next few years, plans were formulated for a community center, with a field house, meeting rooms, fitness center, and an indoor pool, to be operated by the YMCA. As part of that, in 2019, the city committed to contribute no more than $14 million toward the community center, contingent on the committee developing the proposal raising $6 million more.
The project languished until 2021 because of the restrictions imposed by COVID-19. Finally, the committee and the YMCA came to Council asking for a reaffirmed commitment to the project. At that meeting, the Fairmont Hockey Association also spoke, asking to have a sheet of ice added to the project. The Council reafirmed their commitment, emphasizing that they were only committing to $14 million. The committee agreed to add the sheet of ice.
Meanwhile, another group, Citizens 4 a Strong Fairmont, came up with a separate proposal that uses an existing building with renovations to provide a community center with no athletic or fitness facilities at all but a lot more space for other activities for both young people and seniors, as well as the community at large. Their proposal only costs $1.65 million. They also point out the ongoing operating costs of the facility, which are substantially lower for their proposal.
Here we are, in 2022. The total budget for the project is still $20 million. Even without the ice, we're still dealing with substantial inflation over the $20 million cost in 2019 dollars. It seems obvious that something has to give. The question is: Can we afford the full proposal of the original committee? If not, what has to be cut to fit into the budget? Or can millions of dollars be found elsewhere?
The community center committee is working with architects and an owner's representative to come up with a firm proposal. That proposal is due November 1. While I'm withholding final judgment until that proposal is out, I'm going to be very skeptical of any proposal that exceeds the budgeted amount or that has ongoing running costs that would cause substantial increases in city expenses, and don't see how the committee is going to square that circle. If they can, however, then I'm in favor of the proposal.
Edit, 21 October 2022: The Fairmont Sentinel reported yesterday that three concepts have been presented to the Advisory Board. One, for both the YMCA and an ice arena, came in at $45.9 million, while a YMCA-only facility is estimated at $25 million and an ice arena only is estimated at $24 million. All three of those prices are higher than the $20 million that has been committed. It's clear that more money will need to be raised - and none of this even begins to address ongoing operation and maintenance costs for the facility. Unless that money can be raised without increasing city taxes even one penny, I will oppose spending that much.