Town Center in jeopardy?
Several years ago, the Town of Windsor had the opportunity to lease the old Windsor Middle School gym from the School Board for a $1 per year and renovate the facility into a Town Center. The town has needed a venue that could accommodate large groups. The library does not have the room for big events, and the Ruritan Club can only hold so many people. The idea that awards banquets, large meetings, lectures, craft fairs and many other possible events could be held within town limits was exciting. The added knowledge that Isle of Wight County Parks and Recreation could use it for programs that are much needed in our community was an added bonus.
Needless to say, our community was in favor of this opportunity, and the Windsor Town Council has been busy making it a reality.
A 20-year lease with an option to renew indefinitely was signed with the School Board. Fundraisers were held. Volunteers cleaned and painted the inside of the building. The Windsor Women’s Club landscaped the front of the building. A sign was erected. A Town Center Advisory Board was established. An architect was hired to produce a design, and a public information meeting was held to review it.
Due to responsible planning, Mayor [Carita] Richardson reported that the approximately $1 million that may be needed for major renovations is already in the Space Needs Fund. The Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors committed to continue their contributions to the Windsor Town Center Project for two additional years in the amount of $25,000 per year. An invitation for bids was issued with a February due date. Council is set to review those bids and vote at their February meeting. A renovations contract may be ready for review and vote at that time. If not, the contract should be ready by the March Council meeting. The doors of the Town Center could be open as soon as August! Then again, maybe they won’t.
At the November Council meeting, one of the members asked Council to consider and investigate the possibility of building a new Town Hall and library with an adjoining community center on the five-acre lot owned by the Town and using the old gym as a recreation center only. The Town Manager researched this idea and reported at the December Council meeting that the estimated construction cost of the combined facility was $6 million based on square footage assumptions and did not include any design services or construction administration costs. That figure is approximately $2.3 million more than the $3.7 million cost for a new municipal building that Council decided on in December 2016. It was estimated that the Town’s annual cost to finance the proposed combined facility would be approximately $330,500 per year assuming that all $6 million was borrowed. A rough estimate to renovate the gym as a recreation center only was $620,000.
So, for a renovation cost saving of $380,000, Council is considering borrowing a huge amount of money to build a combined facility that may not break ground for another two or three years with another one to two years after that before construction is complete. Since costs will likely increase as time goes by, it could result in more money being borrowed. In the meantime, it will probably cause a substantial tax hike on town residents. In addition, Council is considering spending $620,000 to renovate the old gym into a recreational facility only or they may scrap the entire project completely. If they do, all the time, effort and money spent on the Windsor Town Center Project to date will have been for nothing. Does this sound reasonable to you?
Our community needs a venue for large events now and should not have to wait another three to four years to use one. The renovation money is already available. All that is needed is a bid decision and a contract for the work to begin to have an operational Town Center is as little as six months. For Council to do otherwise is fiscally irresponsible and short-sighted to the needs of our community.
If you agree, it is time to act. Let the Windsor Town Council know that you think they should vote to fully renovate the old Windsor Middle School gym into the planned Town Center that we have been working on and are ready to use. You can call or email Council members, whose information is on the Town website @ http://www.windsor-va.gov/page/town-council/.
I also encourage you to attend the Feb. 13 Council meeting at 7 p.m. Stand up and voice your opinion during the Public Comments and Citizens’ Concerns portion of the meeting. Together, we can make the Windsor Town Center a reality in 2018!