A library, pools, meeting rooms and a skate park - such were the main wishes of Montgomery Township residents for the proposed community and recreation center at Stump and Horsham roads.
On Wednesday, the township held a public input meeting as part of the needs assessment and feasibility study for the future center. The meeting was overseen by township Manager Larry Gregan, Ballard*King & Associates Recreation Facility Planning President Ken Ballard, and Kimmel-Bogrette Architecture + Site owner Martin Kimmel and associate John Trump.
Kimmel told the packed meeting room that his firm's goal for the township is extraordinary solutions for ordinary budgets.
"Part and parcel to everything we do is how can we fiscally manage community services?" said Kimmel. "How can it be environmentally sustainable and make it fit and viable by all ages and all demographics in the township?"
Ballard said his firm has dealt with issues of right sizing for a number of facilities.
"We don't build. We deal with the operations side," he said. "Whatever is recommended and comes forward, you have to have the revenues to offset the cost of operations."
Kimmel said the center is meant to be sustainable for the long term. In the end, a business plan will be in place.
"It will ultimately meet the needs in the budget," he said.
has worked with the township before: it is responsible for the development and redevelopment of both Fire Department of Montgomery Township fire stations.
"You have to make sure what you decide is consistent of the mission of the township itself," Kimmel said.
Before public input, Kimmel asked the audience to think in broad terms of what a commnity recreation center can be for Montgomery Township. It should be an active space, it should offer classes and activities beyond athletics, he said.
"The goal is to have the challenge of 'I wish it was bigger, I wish we had more hours in a day to house programs.' We will supplement ideas tonight with community centers we've worked with across the country," Kimmel said. "Our role is to help build a consensus among the community of what the right thing is to do."
Kimmel said the center should be developed with outdoor space that complements indoor space. There is an opportunity, he said, to build an iconic image of what people think of the township.
"You have many good things. This could be one of them," he said. "One reason the township selected us from 30 proposals is our long term track record of defending township dollars through the design process."
Resident Joe McGettigan told the audience of how he swims at Highpoint Health Club every day and appreciates the open design of the place.
"I find that when you try to swim at L.A. Fitness, you have a tendency to get claustrophobic about it," he said. "Highpoint lets in light. It's beneficial all year around. You can sit in the enclosed area and lounge in the sun if you want. I think a pool would be a very good investment."
Helen Haag, chair of the township's Senior Volunteer Committee, had one simple request: meeting rooms where seniors can greet other seniors.
"It would be great to have a kitchen to have coffee and a safe walking track," Haag said, "so you don't have to go to the mall. I think these requests are simple and doable."
Resident Bob Sykes was concerned about the operating costs of the center.
"I know the building of that size will require administrative staff, program staff, maintenance staff - I know there will be costs with utilities and so forth," Sykes said. "I hope you are considering the hours of operation - 9 to 5 or five days a week or seven days a week. I am hoping these questions will also be answered."
Sykes said it was very, very important to have all ages groups involved in the center.
"I don't know if user fees will be annual fees or covered under taxes. If so, how will that offset the tax structure here," he said.
Sykes then suggested the development of the community center be a binding referendum on the ballot "so all citizens have a yay or nay vote on what they want."
Ballard responded to Sykes' comments, stating his firm will develop a precise line item budget and will outline all potential fees.
"This has to be sustainable in terms of not overburdening the township," Sykes said. "At the end of the process, that will all be clearly identified. People will know what this all means."
Resident Will Cann stressed the importance of flexibility of the center. For instance, if the township finds that the ping-pong table is so busy, then would they consider buying another one? If bocce, for instance, is used a lot, would the township consider adding another court?
Cann also suggested a rock climbing wall, but mentioned there could be liability issues. He would also like to see a shuffleboard table and horseshoes.
"A lot of facilities have parks for kids to skate in," he said. "I don't know much about it, but kids (in my neighborhood) have come to me. I promised I would say something about it."
Montgomery Township Historical Society President Rich Roller suggested a measured walking path around the site. However, what he was most interested in was if the building would be a green building.
Kimmel said environmental sustainability is a big part of the project.
Roller also suggested a dedicated space for the Montgomery County Bookmobile.
"I'd like to give (the Bookmobile) a permanent home in the township," he said.
Roller also suggested a stage for teen dances or battle of the bands.
"Something that the segment of the teen population would be interested in attending," Roller said.
Resident Lynn Caldwell said a lot of hearts broke when Garden Golf shut down.
"It was good for adults and kids. Mini golf, go karts, snack bar - I hope that's something we can replace," Caldwell said.
Resident Mark Pachuda threw the presenters a curve ball: He said several years ago the idea of a library was brought up for vote in the township and it did not pass.
"We are not part of Lansdale Library. If you want to go to the library, you have to use the county library in Norristown, or go to Horsham," he said. "I would like to see the Bookmobile go away and a portion of the center set up as a library."
Jeanette Uzdzienski spoke on behalf of her four sons, saying she would love to see an affordable outdoor pool in addition to an indoor pool.
"It's helpful for us and our friends. It's nice to have a place where some kids can swim outside and others can do clinics like tennis or basketball," she said. "Maybe the outdoor pool can have water slides or a swim team. Something a lot closer would be beneficial to us."
Gregan said the township is one with a lot of homeowner groups that use township facilities for meetings and the like. The township also sees a surge in requests for meeting rooms from Scout groups.
"We need additional community meeting spaces," Gregan said.
A resident of the Village of Neshaminy Falls said there needs to be an affordable pool, as residents cannot afford to go to a place like Highpoint as they get older.
"You're looked at negative when you bring your grandchildren to swim," she said. "If you have an indoor and outdoor pool, a lot said they would bring their grandchildren to swim when they visit, which can be quite often."
One youth stood up and said the center should have a video gaming center for teens, as well as a pool table.
Resident Bill Miller stressed the need for a library in the township.
"Libraries today are meeting rooms," he said. "It's something that belongs to a community center. The township, like all the rest of the country, is aging. The older we get, the more time we spend to read."
Before a pool is considered, Miller said, the township needs to determine what the pools will be used for, be it recreation, exercise or competitive swimming.
"You have to build something that accomplishes at least two at the same time," he said. "If you go into competitive swimming, you have to consider where are we going to get coaches and talent. It's going to be something of a long term process. And it's not something the township will be able to pay tax dollars with."
Miller recommended the township look to the future. While the township can expand sporting fields, they can't expand a pool so easily.
"Consider a modern library," he added. "A garage for the Bookmobile is not the answer."
Ken Katzenberger, a resident since 1973 and principal with The Accelerx Group in King of Prussia, a business growth and process improvement consulting firm, stood up at the front of the room and cautioned against a community center.
"The question is," he said, "are we looking for a solution to a problem or are we looking for a problem to the solution?"
Katzenberger said he hears talk of library, pools and meeting rooms, but what is the purpose of the community center?
"I look at this area and I'm thinking, 'Well, how are we going to get people to come to this facility?' I care about the library. The question is do we need to finance and stock a library for books? Would it be better off if we had a fund set aside, we pay a $5 fee for somebody to go over to Horsham and use their library."
He said in the big picture of building the center, there should be alternatives.
"We bought a piece of land to look for a solution. I am really struggling with what we are really trying to solve here and what we are trying to accomplish," he said. "Who knows? Down the line we may not be able to pay for it."
He said he wants to see alternatives and what the analysis has been "as to why we've already preconcluded that we are going to build something."
Resident Steve Long, a 25-year resident and real estate agent, said people are not thinking about if the fees will be incorporated into real estate taxes or user fees.
Long said Horsham decided years ago to have more than one company to haul their trash. Instead of people paying for trash on their own, it is now a tax, he said. The same goes for the library in Horsham, he said.
"When someone decides they want to purchase a piece of real estate, they have to usually qualify for a mortgage. When you qualify for a mortgage, they look at what are the debts incurred for that monthly payment," he said. "Right now, when you buy a property in Horsham, the mortgage company adds the taxes for your trash and adds the taxes for the library as an additional debt against you."
Long said if it were a regular user fee payable to the trash company, that debt is not counted against you. He said that means if you can afford a $300,000 mortgage in Horsham, you can afford a $340,000 mortgage in Montgomery Township.
"In my opinion, if you were to go ahead and put these fees down as real estate taxes, you're not doing anybody a favor," Long said.
He went on to discuss affordability of the center to the residents. Long said there are other facilities in the area that residents use for swimming and the like.
"If somebody can't afford the facility at Highpoint, I seriously doubt they are goign to be able to afford a brand new facility constructed with current dollars and current technology, unless somebody else is paying for it," he said. "If somebody else is paying for it, great. I'll take three."
He said residents will wind up paying for the center whether they use it or not.
"We have a lot of businesses in Montgomery Township. I don't think anyone would say we need a Montgomery Mall duplicated in that location," he said. "But think about this: If you are going to put other businesses there, is that going to take away from some of our business in Montgomery Township?"
He said if a business shuts down due to competing with a business inside the community center, the township is faced with another vacant space.
"While it might be nice to say, 'Yes, I'd like to see x, I'd like to see y,' I kind of like the idea of something going there that we currently don't have," he said.
Long said the township doesn't need a library.
He said he and his neighbors were talking about the possibility of a library. He said most were in favor of one. When he asked them the last time they went to the library, he said none had been to a library at all this year.
"They know there's a library in Horsham, they know there's a library in Warminster, they know there are libraries all over the place. My wife goes past a library everyday. Hasn't been in a library in years," Long said. "Sounds like a library would be a nice place."
Resident Kevin Hart had concerns on the revenue side of things. He said it was simpler to project costs of maintenance and construction, but the difficult part is the revenue.
"I can't imagine there's not going to be fees for this facility," Hart said. "There's a lot of competition around here, especially from a recreation standpoint. I see the people that would use this facility would be pretty much confined within this township. If we don't get the participation for the fees that come in, that means the taxes are going to go up and it could be dramatic."
Hart also agreed with a referendum on the ballot.
"It would be great to have," he said. "I think the entire township should have a say in the construction of the facility."
Kimmel said part of the scope of their service is to provide a full market study that would analyze the competition. He said it would look at fulfilling needs that are not currently met in the township.
Resident Lisa Haedrich said she would love to see the township summer camp extended through the school year at the center, especially while parents are at work.
David Jones, executive director of the Montgomery United Soccer Club, requested the township to partner with the 2,000-plus-player association.
"We spend a great deal of money renting out facilities outside the township, probably close to $50,000 we spend at Christopher Dock alone," he said. "Montgomery Basketball has moved their whole league to BuxMont where they spend tens of thousands of dollars over there."
Jones would like to see turf fields at the center, where youths can play sports like flag football and lacrosse. He would also like to see court floors for sports like basketball and roller hockey.
"We would love to spend some of the money we are already spending on a facility in the township," he said.
A library, he said, would be phenomenal.
"If you are bringing a lot of youth people in there in the afternoons or at nights, and if they have free time before or after whatever they are doing at the pool or the courts, I think that's a perfect match," he said.
Resident Lori Chapman said she was concerned about how children and parents will get to the center safely.
"Let's connect everything safely with roads and bike paths and pedestrian paths to get us to that facility," she said, "as well as to Zehr, to fields on Kenas, up to Spring Valley. So that each of all these connecting neighborhoods can get there safely."
Kimmel ended the meeting by saying publications of additional documentation would include all the issues brought up during the meeting.
"We'll probably include other possible uses that weren't specifically mentioned tonight related to cultural arts and arts and crafts," he said. "We thank you very much for coming out in such great numbers and sharing your thoughts."