As the first step in the process to design and build a new multipurpose community center on the site of the current Homer Education and Recreation Center, Stantec Design on Monday presented to the Homer City Council its initial concept — two ideas, actually.
In December, Stantec received an up to $75,000 contract from the city for a conceptual plan. On Monday, Stantec lead planner Ryan Cooper presented two options. The first, a 27,826-square-foot building called HERC A estimated to cost $21.2 million, includes these features:
• A two-court gym, track and 22-foot by 40-foot performance stage
• A second story with a running track
• A commercial kitchen
• A multipurpose room
• Staff offices and a main reception area.
The second option, HERC B, would include a second floor and be 35,194-square-feet and cost $23 million. It would include HERC A plus these additions on the second floor:
• Leasable space about 3,000-square-feet
• A cafe or restaurant space
• A rooftop area.
Neither plan includes the cost of tearing down the existing HERC building.
The community center also includes a skate park, an outside play area including outdoors basketball courts, a broad lawn area, a fenced-in dog park and additional parking. An existing parking lot from Woodside Avenue off Pioneer Avenue would be kept. Cooper said that a creek and wetlands drainage would remain. The buildings would be sited to take advantage of the topography sloping down to the Sterling Highway and to maximize views.
Cooper said the community center would not be a performing arts center, but a separate stage would be designed so events like plays could be set up so they wouldn’t have to be taken down daily.
As a roll-out to engage the public in imagining a new community center, from 4-6 p.m. Friday the Pratt Museum & Park will hold a First Friday reception for the public to look at the plans. Over the next month, the city also holds these events:
• March 10, 2-4 p.m., a drop-in visit to discuss the idea with Parks & Recreation staff at the Pratt.
• March 12, 2-4 p.m., a drop-in visit at the Pratt.
• March 17, 4:30 p.m., Park, Arts, Recreation & Culture work session, Cowles Council Chambers, Homer City Hall (Zoom and in person)
Council members spoke favorably about the site plan and building design, but had reservations about the larger footprint and cost.
“I really like the landscape plan specifically. I really liked the building layout and the incorporation of the skate park and the creek and the outdoor play area,” said council member Rachel Lord. “… I am curious about the square footage and the price tags associated.”
Lord said that when the HERC Task Force first considered the idea of a community center, it envisioned a 12,000-square-foot building. She asked how that jump to a larger size happened.
Cooper said that when they started the process, they looked at a smaller concept.
“As we went through it, the group had more enthusiasm to build a larger, more statement piece,” he said. “… The way that I like to think about this level of development is, it really is still focusing on concept and purpose and things that are still flexible for further design.”
He also noted that including an area that could potentially be leased to a business or nonprofit could help to pay for the building cost, operation and maintenance.
Comparing the community center process to the Homer Police Station, Lord noted how the scaled-down version became something the public could support.
“I mean, we got that right,” she said. “The community got there. We funded and built and moved into a new police station that was sorely needed.”
In comments from the audience, former council member Heath Smith said he shared Lord’s concerns. He said he got on the council because the initial public safety building had been a $30 million “pie-in-the-sky type thing” that came down to $12 million and was still shot down by the public.
“There’s a sense of reality that I think that we have to really embrace and we can’t be everything to everybody,” Smith said.
Lord said dreaming big wasn’t necessarily wrong.
“It’d be cool if the community is, like, yeah, we’re willing to pay for this. And maybe it’d be super even more cool if there’s like, you know, some funds available, there’s some grant funds available,” she said. “… I would like to make sure that we have a cheaper option on the table, and that we’re not shooting for the stars and hoping that we land there and, if we don’t, we kind of have to restart the whole system over again.”
Council member Caroline Venuti also expressed some reservations.
“The price tag scares me to death because I think we need to do this, but I don’t know how we’re going to get that much money. So I’m in a quandary,” she said.
Council member Donna Aderhold said she appreciated Stantec’s presentation.
“These are ideas. They’re concepts, and this allows our residents to dream a little bit and say, ‘What do we want what? … In the best of all worlds, what could we have here?”
Council member Jason Davis said he thought the plans seemed about the right size for the community — “If we can find funding,” he added.
“At the same time it would be also good to have a stripped-down, more modest version with half the gym and just make everything a little smaller in case we weren’t able to, you know, bit off that much,” he said.
With the draft plans on the table to provide a starting point, Aderhold said now’s the time for the public to join the process.
“I look forward to some of the public input that’s going to come in the future, because it really — this is a community driven project,” Aderhold said. “… We’re the ones making the decisions, but we definitely cannot do it without a lot of public engagement. So, all right, everybody get your track shoes on and get to the Pratt on Friday.”
Next month, there will be further opportunities to explore the idea. At 5 p.m. April 12 in the council chambers or via Zoom, the Economic Development Advisory Commission meets to discuss the community center concept. At the April 25 council meeting, they review public comments and potential next steps for funding exploration.
The Stantec plan is available on the city website at https://www.cityofhomer-ak.gov/sites/default/files/fileattachments/memo/75662/memo_22-036_and_attachments.pdf.