Community center idea nothing new

Voices Of The Peninsula

Posted: Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Where do you start and whom do you believe?

The question of a community center for the community of Nikiski started in 1999, when the Nikiski Community Council collected information for their long-range community plan. The community center idea appeared again on a survey taken by North Peninsula Recreation Service Area in 2001.

This survey had more than 400 responses from voters, with each individual filling out the survey providing written suggestions or ranking previous requests made by public. The community center and bike trails collected the most support. Using the results of the survey, the North Peninsula Recreation five-year planning committee submitted this information to the service area board of directors. The NPRSA board voted to pursue the community center concept. Two more surveys followed in 2002 to determine public's perception of a community center. What is it? What type of programs should be offered through the community center?

In 2002, the service area board formed a community center committee to determine what services, programs and design would best meet the needs of the community. The committee began meeting in 2003, with the idea that a new building would need to be constructed to meet all of the needs identified from the information on the three surveys and, at the time, no large space was available for a community center. The committee changed its plan from new construction to occupying Nikiski Elementary School after the Kenai Peninsula Borough School Board announced that the school would be closed. The board, staff and-or committee members had no part in the decision to close Nikiski Elementary. It was at this time the committee began to look at putting programs into Nikiski Elementary to keep the building open to the public and make it usable until a decision was made by the school district to not return to Nikiski Elementary or occupy the building for education purposes.

At the October 2003 meeting, the service area board voted to not pursue any remodel plans due to the cost of doing so, approximately $6 million. It was the service area's plan to occupy Nikiski Elementary as is and then determine at a future date what programs and uses warranted remodel of portions of the building. In November 2003, the board learned that in order for the service area to even use Nikiski Elementary, a fire suppression system was required by the state of Alaska. This became known as Phase I. Phase I required construction funds of $886,000. The board realized that without access to Nikiski Elementary, our programs and plans would be compromised. Plans were put in motion to identify the necessary funds to complete Phase I.

The NPRSA board voted to set funds aside and bid Phase I. The Kenai Peninsula Borough's ordinance sets the limit at $1,500,000 before going to the voters for approval, so the board proceeded aware of the ordinance. At the February 2004 meeting, the board of directors approved the 2005 budget and set the mill rate at 1. This decision by the service area board translates to no new taxes. The taxpayer's mill rate for recreation will not increase.

When did you hear your taxes were doubling, or going up? Who did you hear it from? Why were you given this information? What is the agenda of the individuals involved with the initiative petitions that are currently being circulated?

The agenda of the North Peninsula Recreation Service Area and others is very clear and a matter of record if you truly care to understand. Our community needs a place for community activities. It's pretty hard to have large group gatherings, provide a place for moms and tots during the day, continue recreation programs and encourage teens to participate in positive activities without access to Nikiski Community Recreation Center (Nikiski Elementary School).

The North Peninsula Recreation Service Area board of directors would have preferred to use a building before making a financial commitment. The cost is a bargain when you figure that a gymnasium alone would cost more than $1 million to construct, and for the costs of a fire suppression system the community is getting more than 60,000 square feet of usable space.

Karen A. Kester is the recreation director for the North Peninsula Recreation Service Area.

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