City council seeks recreation center alternatives

The Homer City Council passed two resolutions at their last regular meeting in an effort to cut alternate paths for resolving the issue of the Homer Education and Recreation Center once and for all.

Resolution 23-115 authorizes the city manager to apply for a multipurpose Brownfield grant from the Environmental Protection Agency for the purpose of revitalizing the HERC site. If awarded, grant funds would enable the City of Homer to conduct a full hazardous assessment on the larger HERC building, also called HERC 1, and hire a consultant to create a cleanup and disposal plan. According to the resolution, such a plan, though it will “incur a significant cost,” is a requirement prior to applying for grant funding to conduct the actual cleanup.

A limited hazmat assessment on HERC 1 was completed earlier this year, as well as a comprehensive hazmat assessment of the smaller HERC building, also called HERC 2. The assessments found that both buildings contain hazardous materials including lead paint, asbestos and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs. Because of the presence of PCBs in the buildings, demolition and disposal became a more complicated manner than anticipated by the City, as it is not possible to dispose of materials from the HERC in any landfill in the state of Alaska. After the assessment results came out, it was determined that further testing and a cleanup plan were necessary to properly proceed.

According to an Oct. 17 memorandum to city council from economic development manager Julie Engebretsen, the EPA Brownfield Multipurpose Grant program is expected to fund 20 grants nationwide, in the amount of $1 million each.

Comprehensive testing and the creation of a cleanup plan, “and likely many other steps will require significant time and funding,” Engebretsen wrote in the memo. The grant application authorized by Resolution 23-115 is “the first step” in applying for federal funding to address the aforementioned tasks. According to Engebretsen, “this grant program is very competitive and (city) staff anticipates this will be the first of several applications over the coming years.”

Meanwhile, Resolution 23-118 directs city administration to investigate other potential locations and related costs for a future multiuse community recreation center, to later be brought to city council for review.

Having a multiuse community recreation center is listed as the No. 2 priority on the City of Homer’s 2024-2029 Capital Improvement Plan, and while the current HERC site is a “highly desirable location” for both indoor and outdoor recreation, the results of the hazmat assessments have ruled that impractical.

Resolution 23-118 provides nine specific directions for city administration:

Investigate possible land locations and existing facilities options, including privately owned and city-owned land;

Establish and define criteria for administration to select at least three potential options that would include (at a minimum) acreage, location, opportunity for future facility expansion, proximity to existing infrastructure, i.e., water, sewer and sidewalks, and cost;

Develop a matrix that assesses possible sites against the criteria and determine the top three potentials sites based on the outcome of the assessment;

Initiate conversations with property owners of the top three sites;

Pursue site analysis for the top three sites with possible efforts from volunteer professionals;

Identify a funding strategy for new site purchase if a non-city-owned site is one of the top three options;

Include the Parks, Art, Recreation, and Culture Advisory Commission in evaluation of the top three sites and possible purchasing strategies of non-city-owned properties;

Provide for public comment on the three selected sites and possible purchasing strategies; and

Report findings back to city council during the first quarter of 2024.

Both resolutions were passed as part of the consent agenda at the beginning of the Oct. 23 meeting. No discussion was conducted on either of these items.

The full resolutions and backup memorandums are available online at

The next city council regular meeting will be held on Monday, Nov. 13 at 6 p.m. in the City Hall Cowles Council Chambers.