The old Homer intermediate school building, showing the Homer Boys & Girls Club and gym on the south side of the building at the corner of the Sterling Highway and Pioneer Avenue.

City council moves forward with HERC Campus feasibility study

This article has been updated to include the full name of the Homer Education and Recreation Complex.

The Homer City Council voted Monday to approve the $75,000 Homer Education and Recreation Complex, or HERC, Campus fund appropriation to hire a consultant to conduct a feasibility study for the new multi-use community center.

The study will help the city determine how to proceed with future plans to demolish the current HERC Campus and rebuild a new community center that will better serve Homer. The consultant will work with the public to decide what type of facility can be installed and maintained.

The Homer City Council will use the feasibility study to apply for an American Rescue Plan travel, tourism and outdoor recreation grant, which, if received, will fund the construction. Because of the effects of the pandemic, the American Rescue Plan has allocated $3 billion to help communities nationwide to rebuild their economies that were impacted by COVID-19. A portion of the ARPA money will be granted to communities affected by the pandemic whose economies rely on the travel, tourism and outdoor recreation sectors, such as Homer, to help accelerate their recovery.

The council’s goal is to submit the grant application by the end of 2021 or beginning of 2022 if the feasibility study can be completed in time. The application is not due until mid-March, but the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District has advised the council move quickly in submitting their application.

Julie Engebretsen, deputy city planner, said all of the steps to completing the study and application process need to be done in a short amount of time. Mayor Ken Castner and several council members voiced their concerns for the time frame of the project and application deadline, ultimately asking if it were even possible.

“Us getting a contract out that quickly and a consultant getting the work done and our community reaching consensus through our public process in that time frame is really short,” Engebretsen said. “On the flipside, I look at it and say that’s four months from now that that grant application is due. If we stretched it, six months. Can we accomplish something in that time frame? I hope so.”

Council member Rachel Lord shared that even though she recognizes it is a quick turnaround time for the city, many years of research and preliminary planning have gone into this project that will help move the study along.

“(The project) is not starting from the ground, and I think that if that were the case, it would frankly be laughable,” Lord said. “But the amount of work that has gone into this … to lay that foundation is huge. I think that does provide the springboard that makes the timeline even consider being possible.”

The final report from the feasibility study will be due in early December.

Since introducing Ordinance 21-58 at the Sept. 13 city council meeting and hosting a public worksession for the topic, the city has received feedback and support from the community to demolish the current HERC Campus and construct a new community center. Council member Donna Aderhold said by the amount of people who came to the worksession and voiced their excitement for the project, she feels confident in moving forward with the project.

“I feel like we have the public’s support in moving forward in the direction we’re heading,” Aderhold said.

For more information about the HERC Campus project, contact Rob Dumouchel at RDumouchel@ci.homer.ak.us.

Reach Sarah Knapp at sarah.knapp@homernews.com.

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