Council moves forward with HERC plans

After years of discussions and planning, the Homer City Council is quickly moving forward with plans to explore future uses of the Homer Education Recreation Complex, or HERC campus, with the goal to build a community recreation center.

These plans began with the introduction of Ordinance 21-58 Monday night, which appropriates $75,000 from the HERC CARMA Fund for professional services for a public process and feasibility study for the new multi-use center to move the project forward.

The ordinance, if adopted Sept. 27, would allow for the hiring of a consultant who will work with the city and public to create a long term business plan to support the new facility.

Council member Heath Smith said in conversations with City Manager Rob Dumouchel that the city expects $45,000 to go toward the study with the remaining $30,000 as a contingency plan.

The city is partnering with the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District to help find grants to fund the HERC project to serve the community. The city is in the beginning stages of an application process to receive federal funding for the demolition of the current buildings, which would also fund the design and construction process of a new multi-use facility or community center.

Tim Dillon, executive director of KPEDD, said during the committee of the whole meeting on Monday that through grant monies for travel, tourism and outdoor recreation given by the state of Alaska Economic Development Association and American Rescue Plan Act, the HERC campus would be a likely candidate for financial support if the process begins now.

“You have to have worked through your city process,” Dillon explained. “A lot of the things that have been done (for the HERC campus) is great. That’s what we need to have been done. But what happens when you deal with the feds is they want to see things that are as close to being shovel ready but also vetted through the community like yesterday.”

The application for the ARPA grant is not due until March; however, Dillon encouraged the council to have the application prepared by December.

Karin Marks, chair of the HERC Task Force, shared that since so much ground work had already been accomplished, she believed if the council moved forward with the project and submitted the application early that they would be successful in obtaining the necessary funding.

Council member Rachel Lord said while she thought the grant would be a great opportunity, it was important the council keep in mind the long term maintenance and sustainability of the facility once built.

“I think this is a great fit, and I hope we can move forward on this,” Lord said. “… I know that we’ve talked about it at the table on a number of different topics, but to make sure we don’t get too hot on ourselves with potential dollars that we don’t keep in mind the long term sustainability and physical reality of having to maintain a structure.”

Council member Donna Aderhold said she was interested in moving the project along but wanted to make sure a developed plan of what was needed of a community complex was formed with public support.

Currently the city and council are working with the public to identify what services the HERC buildings provide, both public and private, and what kinds of activities should be held in the new facility.

Community members voiced their support and concern for the future community center during the regular meeting.

Janie Leask, a Homer resident, spoke in support of the new multi-use community center, stating the need for community recreation is vital.

“Community recreation provides an incredible opportunity not only for exercise, but connectivity among residents,” she said. “I have been playing competitive sports almost all of my life, and as a senior citizen, I enjoy the exercise offered by the city of Homer, and I also enjoy the opportunity it provides for social connectedness.”

However, she shared she fears the city will demolish the HERC before having the funding to build a replacement and the community will be at a loss because of it.

Ultimately, all of the council members were supportive and appreciative of the ordinance and project and are interested to see what will happen next.

The city council will hold a worksession at 5 p.m. next Monday, Sept. 20 to further discuss the uses of the HERC campus and future plans for the site. The public is invited to comment during this worksession in the Cowles Council Chambers in City Hall.

A public hearing for Ordinance 21-58 will be held Sept. 27 during the city council regular meeting.

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