By JOHN KLINE
THE GOSHEN NEWS
GOSHEN — Goshen City Council members last week voted to send a controversial $27.6 million Goshen Community Center project to a special referendum this May. This coming Monday, Goshen Board of School Trustees members will face their own preliminary determination hearing connected to the same proposal, this time involving a $7 million school rehabilitation project that would involve the closure of both the corporation’s middle school and high school pools.
That $7 million project — and how it connects to the city’s planned community center project — was a major topic of discussion during a special joint meeting of the Goshen City Council and Goshen Board of School Trustees Tuesday evening.
During the meeting, Goshen Community Schools Superintendent Diane Woodworth provided council members with a brief update on where the corporation stands regarding its portion of the two-part proposal and answered numerous questions concerning how that plan may affect the future operation of the proposed community center.
“Where we are now is that you passed the determination hearing last week which allows the city question to go to a referendum vote,” Woodworth said. “The school board will hold the equivalent determination hearing from the school’s point of view next Monday night. So if that would pass, at that point two questions would go to the referendum ballot, one for the city and one for the school.
“The hope from the school is that we could word our question in such a way that if for some reason the city question would not pass, that the school would still be able to build a pool somewhere on the school campuses and do the renovations that we’ve been talking about for years.”
According to the most recent project plans, the bulk of the community center project would involve the construction of a $27.6 million facility located at the former city garage property on the Millrace’s west side that would include an aquatic center with a wellness and therapy pool; a recreation pool and a competition pool; a gymnasium, a fitness center with an indoor track and meeting rooms.
In addition, the GCS rehabilitation project would involve approximately $7 million in renovations and construction at Goshen High School and Goshen Middle School. Through the school renovations, the pool areas of both schools would be converted to new spaces to help alleviate space problems in music programs and add additional workout and classroom spaces. The schools would then utilize the pool facilities at the new community center for all of their pool-related recreational and sports needs.
Should the community center eventually be constructed, City Council member Everett Thomas asked Woodworth what she thought the corporation’s usage of the pool facilities would likely be from day to day, as he has received numerous comments from community members who fear the school corporation will monopolize the new pool facilities once its own pools are closed.
“One thing that will change is the amount of swimming at the school we’ll be able to do in physical education instruction,” Woodworth said. “Right now, the middle school pool, in the winter time, when physical education classes can’t go outside, is used every period of the day for physical education. That will change.”
Woodworth also noted that while she anticipates school usage of the competition pool will likely be quite significant, she does not anticipate much use of the recreational pool, which is the pool most likely to be utilized by the public.
“I think it’s true that at certain times of the year, the school will use a lot of the use of the competitive pool,” Woodworth said, “but I think that the recreational pool would not be something the school would use very much.”
In connection with the overcrowding concern, Thomas also asked Woodworth whether she has been contacted by any other school districts in the area who might be interested in using the facilities in a similar fashion to GCS.
“We haven’t had much communication with other communities about using the pool,” Woodworth said. “I know that other communities are looking at doing similar things, where schools have one or two pools and they’re looking at combining them with Y’s in their town, or other ways to do it, because it’s really becoming prohibitive for schools to operate a pool. I wouldn’t say that couldn’t happen down the road. But at this point, no, I haven’t had any conversations about it.”
As he has his previous conversations about the community center, Councilman Jeremy Stutsman noted his concerns about the overall cost of the project and its anticipated operating expenses. He then asked whether the school corporation would be willing to step up and provide funding in the event that the facility’s expenses turn out to be higher than anticipated.
“Assuming this gets built, whatever size, if the operating expenses are higher than expected, does the school board and school administration see that as the city’s job to cover that money?” Stutsman asked. “Will you guys be willing to put money into it as well. Who’s going to cover that?”
In response, Woodworth said that it is her understanding that the current business plan calls for the school corporation to contribute $150,000 a year toward the operation of the center, which is less than the corporation currently spends to maintain its two pools.
“I think there could be room for discussion moving forward,” Woodworth said, “but I think from the school’s point of view, we’d want to try to contain it close to what we’re doing now so it’s not an additional expense for the school. I think the business plan hopes to have enough community involvement to make it function.”
For his part, Goshen Mayor Allan Kauffman said he feels that any extra expense should be paid for out of the endowment currently being raised by Goshen Community Center Inc., the 501(c)3 non-profit organization set up to direct and manage the center.
“My interpretation is that it should come from the not-for-profit that operates the center, which is one of the reasons for the endowment that they want to create,” Kauffman said, “so that if they need to use some of those funds they can, because I don’t want a big drain on the city either.”
Even though current figures indicate that the community center should become self-sustaining within five years, Stutsman warned that all parties should be cognizant of the fact that projections do not always prove accurate, and the money they think will be coming in from the community may not actually be there when the time comes to pay the bills.
“I just think that we all need to be prepared if that endowment doesn’t get as big as they’d hoped, or if it falls short later, that it’s going to come back on us,” Stutsman said. “If that group can’t handle it, we’re going to have to decide at that point do we take from our budgets, or do we close a $28 million facility.”