Presque Isle voters to decide future of community center

Posted Oct. 28, 2012, at 7:12 p.m.
Last modified Oct. 28, 2012, at 9:33 p.m.

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — When it was built in 1944, the William V. Haskell Community Center immediately became a place where youth and adults could gather to exercise, hold meetings and conduct other activities.

Now that 68 years have passed, the facility is showing its age. The three roofs on the building are leaking and the floor joists are beginning to rot, the electrical service is outdated, asbestos is in the wall and ceiling panels, the chimney is cracked and breaking up and more.

In 2006, the community began sketching plans to replace the 7,200-square-foot building, but those plans were hampered due to the downturn in the economy.

Anxious to secure the center’s future, the City Council has turned the issue over to the voters.

On Nov. 6, a referendum question on the ballot will read, “Do you favor the construction of a new community center to replace the current facility?”

If the referendum is approved, the city will proceed with plans to build the new center, but only after fundraising efforts bring in a minimum of half of the $6.8 million project costs. Approximately $3.75 million of the remaining cost will come from taxpayers.

If the referendum is defeated, the city will repair the current recreation center to meet minimum health and safety standards.

The existing Haskell Center on Main Street has a gym and a lounge as well as office space.

It would cost an estimated $877,000 to make minimum repairs and meet Americans With Disabilities Act requirements, according to figures provided by the city. At the same time, those repairs would not ameliorate additional issues with the Main Street center. At this point, the small size of the building limits programming opportunities, and there is inadequate parking and spectator seating. It also is located in a high traffic area, which compromises safety.

If voters support a new center, it will be located on 8 acres on Chapman Street. The site was chosen because of its closeness to the downtown, the outdoor pool, the bicycle path and Riverside Park, which is where the Presque Isle Recreation Department holds its soccer program.

Originally, the architectural plan for the new facility called for it to be a $10 million, 37,000-square-foot, two-story facility. That was scaled back due to the downturn in the economy. The revised plans call for a 30,000-square-foot, single-story facility.

City officials said that it will meet community needs for the next 70 years, with expanded space for all age groups. It will feature a teen and senior center, walking track, gymnasium, multipurpose room, locker rooms, art room and kitchen facilities.

Proponents also said that it would provide a safe place for families to gather, along with offering more activities for youth and seniors. It also will increase traffic in the downtown area, discourage outmigration, encourage healthy lifestyles and combat obesity.

The city secured funding several years ago to clean up the Chapman Street land and make sure it is free from contaminants.

Further details about the project, along with architectural drawings and plans, can be found on the city’s website.