HERC Task Force meets for the first time

The long-awaited Homer Education and Recreation Complex Task Force held its first meeting Tuesday, establishing its work scope and electing a chair and vice chair.

The HERC Task Force was officially seated by the Homer City Council at its May 29 meeting. Its members are Karin Marks, Chrisi Matthews, David Denny, Michael Haines, Paul Knight, Barry Reiss and Larry Slone. Slone was chosen to be the task force’s chair, and Reiss the vice chair. Reiss and Denny fill the force’s seats as nonresidents, of which there are allowed to be up to two.

Task force members discussed at length what the scope of their work should be, eventually deciding to accept the four items given to them by the council. Several members commented that accepting these questions as the scope of their work doesn’t mean the scope can’t be expanded or altered in the future.

The questions handed down by the council for the task force to investigate are:

• Can the upstairs of the HERC be safely used with no capital improvements?

• What are the minimum improvements that would be needed to safely use the entire HERC facility and cost associated with those improvements?

• What are the desirable improvements that need to be made to the entire HERC facility to allow it to be used to its full potential for the next 10 years?

• What would it cost to demo the HERC and build a new facility that meets the recreation needs of the community on the existing site?

In order to answer these questions, the task force has a budget of $3,000 for professional consultation. Several of the members commented that, in order to conserve that budget, it will be important to decide several things — like what the preferred use for the site will be — before going to a consultant with questions.

Some of the occupancy, or use, options that have been identified by the city council are operating the HERC within the existing space used for community recreation, expanding the HERC for community recreation use, or leasing the space. In the resolution that establishes the task force, the council has directed its members to evaluate how to pay for operation, maintenance and capital expense of whatever use option they select, and to recommend a funding plan to the council.

Matthews asked about a previous study done of the building in the 1990s, and others asked about doing a needs assessment survey to best determine what kind of use of the HERC would best suit the community. Deputy City Planner Julie Engebretsen, who will attend the meetings, informed the task force that there was already a needs assessment done within the last few years, which she will provide the task force with. She said her goal for future meetings will be to provide members with the historical information and documents pertaining to the HERC as they are needed.

The task force also talked about its next steps as a group. Its next meeting will be a work session in which members will take a walk through the HERC building. This is open to the public and will be held at the HERC building at 3 p.m. Tuesday, June 26.

Engebretsen advised task force members to form a list of questions about the building based on that walk through, which she will forward to a consultant from Stantec, an architecture group that has studied the HERC in the past for the city.

While it’s off and running with its first meeting done, the task force could still see some alterations. The city council has yet to vote on a method of including a member of the Parks, Art, Recreation and Culture Advisory Commission on the force. The resolution setting the task force up originally said the body could have up to one member of PARCAC in a voting seat. Several people, including members of PARCAC, reported to the council that they interpreted that language as meaning PARCAC was guaranteed a seat at the table.

The council has yet to decide whether to expand the HERC Task Force to eight members, with the eight seat being designated for a PARCAC member, or to include representatives of PARCAC and the council in the task force as advisory, non-voting seats.

This issue was scheduled to be voted on at the council’s Monday, June 11 meeting. Since that was canceled due to lack of a quorum, the task force question will be taken up at the council’s next meeting on June 25.

Reach Megan Pacer at mpacer@homernews.com.