It’s official: Council chooses HERC site for public safety

They said it before, sort of, but Monday night the Homer City Council made it clear with passage of Resolution 14-110: The city-owned property at the corner of Pioneer Avenue and the Sterling Highway, known as the HERC site for the Homer Education and Recreation Complex that exists on it, is the site-of-choice for a new public safety building.

In 2013, the council passed Resolution 13-096, stating the council has “concluded that it is in the best interest of the community to demolish the existing buildings and use the site for the proposed new public safety building.” Since then:

• A new public safety building for the city’s fire and police departments has become one of the city’s highest capital improvement priorities;

• A Public Safety Building Review Committee has been established;

• A contract was awarded to Cornerstone General Contracting of Anchorage for the design and construction services of the new public safety building;

• A building space needs assessment and a set of criteria — including size, physical characteristics, suitability for development, and potential negative attributes — were used by the contractor and committee to review and evaluate potential sites for the building;

• The committee selected the HERC site; and

• The committee recommended that site to the city council.

Meanwhile, members of the public have continued to express concern about losing the site and what it offers, including a gym, a skateboard park, a basketball court, a green area available to community groups and the two buildings, both former schools.

One building provides space for the city’s Public Works Department. The larger one, which includes the gym, formerly provided space for Kachemak Bay Campusand for city offices while city hall was remodeled several years ago.

During the council’s Committee of the Whole meeting on Monday, council member David Lewis noted his intent to pull Resolution 14-110 from the consent agenda and move it to the “resolutions” section of the agenda in order to allow for discussion.

“This idea is not going over like a balloon filled with helium,” said Lewis of public criticism aimed at using the HERC site for a new public safety building. 

Council member Beau Burgess offered a different perspective based on the condition of the HERC, as well as the current police and fire stations that the departments have outgrown.

“We’re the head of the family here,” said Burgess. “If your kid wants something in the candy store aisle and you have a limited budget, you’re never going to make a decision that’s popular with everyone.”

Burgess also was critical of complaints that “didn’t offer viable solutions. … I think it’s important if you come up here and say you don’t like this then what would you like to do instead?”

With an eye toward the upcoming legislative session and making timely funding requests, Lewis suggested waiting to make a decision on the resolution until its Nov. 24 meeting “was not going to put us that far behind the eight-ball.”

Mayor Beth Wythe pointed out opportunities already given the public to weigh in on the topic in the past year. However, council member Bryan Zak questioned proceeding without knowing if there was enough voter support of a bond if one was needed to construct the new safety building.

“We’ve got this white elephant we have to do something with, the HERC, but I don’t know yet that we’re doing the best thing,” said Zak. “I would suggest going one more meeting to get public input.”

Council member Francie Roberts urged moving ahead.

“With the legislative process coming up in January, if we postpone our thoughts about where we want to locate the new safety building, we’ll be way too far behind,” said Roberts.

Given an opportunity to express their opinion, the public was quick to respond during the council’s regular meeting.

Kate Crowley of ReCreate Rec, a group currently conducting an area-wide recreation needs assessment due to be completed next spring, said she had “been trying to make calls about this and slow the process down.” Crowley presented the council with an online petition of more than 70 signatures she conducted that she “thought might give you an idea of some of the public opinion on this.” 

Speaking against the resolution, Matthew Garvey said, “We’re not just the audience. We’re participators in this whole event. We want you to know that. “

Roberta Highland also spoke in favor of keeping the HERC building.

“I can’t imagine when we would see another building for community recreation. Not with the way finances are these days,” said Highland.

Kachemak City resident Kevin Walker cautioned the process was “moving a little too fast” and suggested leaving the gym alone.

Describing the HERC site as “a gateway to Homer,” Lindianne Sarno said she thought the resolution, coming before the recreation needs assessment was completed, was “jumping the gun.”

When it came time to vote on Resolution 14-110, Burgess said, “I do want to make clear that all this resolution does is designate this as the site chosen by the committee. It allows us to move forward with funding opportunities. I do want to make clear this in no way, shape or form tears down the HERC building nor does anything to the gym. I think it would be a miracle that anything happens on that site in the next two years.”

Quick to respond, Wythe said, “I do believe in miracles.”

The resolution passed without objection.

The next meeting of the Public Safety Building Review Committee is 5:30 p.m. Nov. 10, during which time is it anticipated USKH, now Stantec, will present preliminary plans for the public safety building. The meeting is open to the public.