• warning: Parameter 2 to ed_classified_link_alter() expected to be a reference, value given in /home/soloneconomist/www/www/includes/common.inc on line 2968.
  • warning: Parameter 2 to ed_classified_link_alter() expected to be a reference, value given in /home/soloneconomist/www/www/includes/common.inc on line 2968.

Next step for Solon community center

Council approves lease for former middle school

SOLON– For $1 a year and the cost of staffing and utilities, the City of Solon now has a community center.
At a special Wednesday, March 28, meeting, members of the Solon City Council approved a lease with the Solon Community School District for the use of the former middle school building.
But there are still a lot of details to work out.
Representatives of the city and school district have been meeting since fall to discuss the possibility, and the lease was on the agenda for the council’s March 21 meeting.
It ended up tabled after a lengthy discussion, but only to clarify which parts of the building the school expected to continually use, and the corresponding sharing of utility costs.
The school district will maintain ownership of the Iowa Street collection of structures, and will continue to utilize the 1917 tower for administrative offices. Also excluded from the lease will be the lower level of the building, five classrooms and the gymnasium between the hours of 3 and 6 p.m. during the school year.
The rest of the complex, including the auditorium, the middle school offices, the remaining gym time and the stand-alone science building, will be operated by the city as a community center.
The district will contribute $12,000 annually for its share of utility costs.
According to City Administrator Cami Rasmussen, the school district prepared the lease, which was then reviewed by City Attorney Kevin Olson and the city’s insurance provider.
City staff spent as much time as possible in the Iowa Street facility, she said, becoming familiar with the building and its potential, as well as any concerns.
Those findings were presented to council members Lauren Whitehead and Steve Duncan, members of the committee considering the proposal, Rasmussen said.
“There’s many pieces of this transition, one of them is staff, oversight of the building, all those things are also in the works,” Rasmussen said at the March 21 meeting. “This is just the lease, which is just one piece of the picture.”
The city sought additional language in the lease to address the operation of vending machines and to provide the city partial control over the key fob entry system.
“There are so many people now going in and out of the building to use the exercise area,” she said. “We just feel like if we’re going to have jurisdiction, we should have some control.”
The lease also needed to spell out the responsibilities of the two local governments for snow removal, she said. The school will plow the auditorium parking lot, she said, while the city will clear the annex lot and the sidewalks.
The school will be responsible for routine maintenance and minor repairs, while major projects costing $5,000 or more will be discussed jointly by the two local governments.
“They want us to have success with this building,” Duncan said of the school district. “This may be the most cost-effective way to go about having a community center in Solon right now.”
A lot of people have already put a lot of time in on the project, and a lot of people want to be involved, but Duncan warned there will still be plenty of issues to deal with in the future.
“It’s not going to be without its bumps and bruises along the way,” he said.
“One of my concerns was the cost of the utilities,” council member Mark Prentice noted. “What’s that going to cost the city?”
According to Rasmussen, natural gas and electric utilities for the former middle school cost the district approximately $55,000 in 2017.
Money in the local option sales tax fund designated for recreation and senior programs could be tapped to cover the expenses until the city has an idea how much revenue the facility will generate, she said.
Prentice said it seemed unlikely the city would be able to make enough money to pay utility bills while also paying for staffing, despite the $12,000 annual contribution from the school.
“You’re not going to find a better value,” countered council member Shawn Mercer. He acknowledged the older building is not the most efficient, but pointed out the minimal cost as opposed to new construction or the purchase of another existing structure. “I think the value will far exceed any utility expense.”
Duncan, however, suggested creating revenue from the facility would be vital.
“The goodness in our heart wants to say come one, come all and use it, but user fees are really important,” he said. “I think we need to develop user fees for residents and non-residents of Solon.”
Committee members talked about a number of ways to cover expected expenses, he noted, including annual voluntary contributions from area service agencies like the Solon Centennial Lions Club which will use the community center for a meeting space.
“We’re trying as a city to maintain some kind of flow of funds that can help us offset some of the costs we will have,” Duncan said.
Council member Whitehead admitted the utility bills were a little intimidating, but said “I see this very much as a ‘if we build it, they will come.’”
The costs of operation were also a concern for Mayor Steve Stange. “We just did the budget. Where would you cut $50,000 from?” he asked. “I mean that’s a lot of money.”
He indicated the local option sales tax funds, 10 percent of which are to support youth and senior activities, would be a prudent source to utilize.
“I see the building benefitting the elderly, I see it be benefitting people that aren’t in sports,” he said.
But if future budgets are tight, Stange said, operating a community center won’t take precedence over streets or other essential infrastructure.
He suggested non-residents should be charged substantially more for their use of the facility. Large numbers of rural residents will be using the facility, and the taxpayers of Solon shouldn’t carry the burden for everybody, Stange said.
“Five dollars more because you live outside of town isn’t going to cut it for me,” he said, noting the current non-resident charges for recreation programs don’t come close to covering overall expenses.
“It’s almost pointless to have a five dollar extra fee because it doesn’t put a dent in what we’re spending,” he said.
A joint meeting of the city council and the Solon Parks and Recreation Commission will be held to further discuss the building’s use.