Study for proposed community center is on Charlotte’s ballot

A rendering shows the possible design for a community center in Charlotte. Courtesy of Nicole Conley

Charlotte voters are debating whether to raise $50,000 in taxes to study the viability of a proposed community center, a project that supporters say could become a hub for city events and offer a multitude new local recreational opportunities.

Plans for the community center have been in the works since November 2020, when a group of city officials and residents first met to discuss ideas. But now the committee feels it has done all it could and wants to bring in a consultant, who could produce more concrete plans for the facility and address concerns about its funding.

Charlotte recreation director Nicole Conley, who led the project, said residents of the town of 4,000 used to drive to other communities for services. But an important question, she said, is, “What can we do in Charlotte?”

Conley said the recreation department doesn’t have a large space for programs other than the city school, Charlotte Central. But the department must pay fees to the Champlain Valley School District — which includes Charlotte — to use school facilities, she said, which can translate into higher recreation fees for city residents.

The committee proposed a number of uses for a community center.

Some include facilities such as an indoor swimming pool, multi-sport courts and an exercise studio. Others include space for community events such as summer camps and adult education classes. They also discussed municipal uses, including Town Assembly Day procedures, a polling place and emergency shelter.

A investigation of about 325 city residents as of December 2020, 55% were interested in using a community center and about 60% said they would do so weekly.

Respondents were most interested in indoor water sports and a fitness center, followed by multi-sport courts, according to the survey.

It’s been another year of living in the pandemic era since the survey results, Conley said, so people’s opinions and priorities may have changed.

The $50,000 on the ballot for that town meeting day would fund an architectural feasibility study, she said, which would help officials determine whether the proposed community center would be financially viable.

Conley said some residents have raised concerns not only about the proposed cost of the study, but also about the costs that would be incurred in building — and then maintaining — the community center in the future.

The study would likely determine what private fundraising options are available for the center, whether or not it would be staffed by the city, what the center might actually look like, and up to three sites where it might be located.

Most survey respondents said that the location of the center was not important to them.

“Hopefully it would engage the community more,” Conley said of the feasibility study, “trying to figure out exactly what you would want a community center to entail.”

Charlotte Selectboard members have previously said the bid they select for a feasibility study can cost less than $50,000. At the same time, the committee said that the cost of a study should not exceed this amount.

The board approved the ballot item at its December 13 meeting.

At the time, council member Matt Krasnow compared the project to building the town’s senior center and library. He said the two received a lot of donations from the community and improved the city.

Including the article on the ballot, Krasnow said, would only give more townspeople a chance to weigh in on the project.

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Jill E. Washington