MOUNT CARMEL - The proposed construction of a community center at the Mount Carmel City Park is still on life support, although some town leaders might be ready to pull the plug later this month if the project doesn’t clear a couple of big hurdles.
The biggest hurdle will be paying for construction, which has a preliminary estimate of about $1.455 million for the building alone.
The project is also contingent on the town buying two residential properties on Maple Street adjacent to the park near the tennis courts where the community center would be located.
Those properties estimated to cost $212,000 total for both.
The Board of Mayor and Aldermen learned Monday night, however, that one puurchhase may be more complicated than anticipated thanks to a special condition being sought by the owner.
The owner of one house wants to allow the family member currently occupying the house to live there until a death in the family creates a vacancy in another family owned house.
A spokesman for the seller explained to the BMA that the property owner would like to create a "life estate deed" situation where the city would agree to purchase the property up front, but the deed wouldn't transfer over to the city until owner passes away.
There are two back lots on that property which are adjacent to the park which could be utilized by the town while the house was occupied.
On Monday the BMA voted 6-1 to authorize Town Attorney John Pevy to research questions surrounding that property owner's life estate deed request.
"Pledging to purchase something in the future - I don't know if the comptroller's Office is going to let that fly," Pevy told the board.
Pevy is expected to return to BMA's regular monthly meeting on March 28 with answers.
The owner of the second property has issued the town a letter seeking a $3,000 purchase option within 30 days.
The board also voted 6-1 to apply for permission from the state comptroller's office to seek a loan to purchase the two Maple Street properties.
Town administrator Gary Lawson said that doesn't commit the town to the purchases the properties or apply for loans. It's just a required step that must be completed in case the town does eventually decide to buy the properties.
On Monday Mount Carmel engineer Matthew Lane gave the BMA a preliminary look at what the community center might look like, both inside and out.
Lane noted that the drawings are very preliminary and he'd only been working on them for about a week.
What Lane presented to the BMA Monday was a 9,700 square foot facility which includes a senior center and public library that are larger than the existing facilities.
There's also a community area with an auditorium and a stage, as well as conference rooms, and a kitchen.
Lane estimates the cost at about $150 per square foot.
As presented, the building is estimated to cost about $1.455 million.
Lawson noted that available grants would likely only cover 40 percent of the project, which means the town would be looking at spending nearly $900,000 for the building alone.
Add another $100,000 for paving, plus the cost of the land acquisition, and and this is easily a $1.2 million expenditure for the town.
Mayor Chris Jones said he and Lane have already been discussing changes to the design that could save money, such as only bricking the first three feet of the structure, and then completing it as a metal frame and siding design similar to the type of lower cost community centers popular with churches.
Lawson noted that one way of paying for the project would be it implement an AEP franchise fee similar to what Kingsport did. Lawson noted that a 3 percent AEP franchise fee would generate about $105,000 annually, which would pay for the community center.
"I think you've got an opportunity, and if you don't take advantage of it, then it may pass, and the chances of it coming back again may be slim," Lawson told the board.
Lawson noted that when he first came into office as an alderman in 1982 Mount Carmel was still paying off City Hall.
"Somebody before my time took a big step to build this," he added. "Same thing with public works, and the fire hall - somebody took a big step to get the property and do what they done. Now it's in your court if you want to take a big step."
Alderman Margaret Christian expressed concern about increasing traffic on Hammond Avenue to get to the park and community center. It's been highly publicized in recent years that there are some very dangerous sections of Hammond Avenue, especially when its wet.
"It's a hair raising experience," she said.
Although Mrs. Christian cast the only no vote for moving forward on the project, she wasn't the only board member to express concern.
Alderman Diane Adams said was concerned with the total cost of the project, as well as the potential complications with the deed. Although she was willing to approve moving forward with the initial steps Monday, she said she's not yet ready to make a commitment to the overall project.
Alderman Eugene Christian questioned whether a community center should be among the board's priorities at this time. He said the focus should be on retail development and building up the town's tax base.
Jones noted however that the town has no control over the most desirable vacant retail property in Mount Carmel. Jones added that increasing the quality of life for residents, and traffic through town via events at the community center can only serve to make the town more desirable for retail development.