Public weighs in on importance of recreation

The HERC — Homer Education and Recreational Complex — was the Homer City Council’s topic du jour Monday. Bringing it to center stage were the council’s plans to request state funding for a new public safety building that would put one roof over the heads of Homer’s police, firefighters and emergency medical responders. One site being considered for the new public safety building is the city-owned property at the corner of Sterling Highway and West Pioneer Avenue, where the HERC is located.

Several related actions before the council Monday.

Resolution 13-095, sponsored by David Lewis, authorized the city manager to keep the HERC gym open for community recreation program that require only minimal heat and utilities.

 The former borough-owned Homer Intermediate School was sold by the Kenai Peninsula Borough to the city of Homer for $1 with the restrictions that “the site shall be owned in perpetuity by the city of Homer or its successor and managed for the use and benefit of the general public.” It has since housed Kachemak Bay Campus, Kenai Peninsula College-University of Alaska Anchorage; provided temporary office space for city of Homer offices during renovation of City Hall; and the ground floor was the clubhouse for the Homer Boys and Girls Club. 

A study done by Klauder and Company Architects in 2012 outlined the building’s deficiencies and concluded that renovating it “will most likely be the same cost per square foot for construction of a new building.”

Regarding Resolution 13-095’s reference of continued use of the gym, Wrede said the HERC is currently kept at a minimal 50 degrees, “enough to keep snow off the flat roof and the pipes from freezing I think the idea is to keep it at that level.” Council member Barbara Howard cautioned against keeping the gym open, anticipating complaints from users when the time came to demolish the structure.

Lewis raised the possibility of saving the gym portion of the building.

“Once the gym is gone we are probably never going to build another gym. We don’t have a gym. We don’t have that kind of space. If possible, I think we should save that part of the building,” said Lewis, whose idea was not shared by council member Beau Burgess. Burgess favored tearing it down.

Local pickleball champion Kathy Hill spoke in favor of keeping the saving the gym.

“The gym is a gem. It’s a beautiful space that has withstood the test of time,” she said. “In my opinion, it should be saved. … The city owns it. Why throw it away when it’s still useful?”

Doug Dodd, who, like Hill, was a pickleball champion at the International Senior Games in Fairbanks last month, also spoke in support of the HERC.

The resolution was approved as part of the consent agenda.

Resolution 13-096, sponsored by Barbara Howard, requested the Kenai Peninsula Borough allow the city to sell the property and use the proceeds for a public purpose if the council deems it to be in the public interest. Howard explained the possibility of selling the property “should we feel that we need to because we’re going to locate the public safety building somewhere else.”

Lewis favored keeping the building and leasing it.

“Once it’s gone, it’s gone,” said Lewis. ‘If we lease it, we at least retain ownership of the property. You never know in the future what that may hold.”

The resolution passed, with Lewis the only council member voting against it; Howard and council members Francie Roberts, Bryan Zak and Beau Burgess voting for it. Council member James Dolma was absent.

Ordinance 13-38 and Ordinance 13-38 Substitute, sponsored by Mayor Beth Wythe and the council, appropriating $300,000 to begin preliminary engineering and design work on the new public safety building.

Council candidate Justin Arno commented on Ordinance 13-38 and its substitute.

“I don’t understand why you’re moving forward to quickly,” said Arnold. “I think there needs to be a lot more thought about what we’re doing here.”

Corbin Arno, also a council candidate, also expressed concern that the council was rushing the work on a new public safety building.

“I think you need to take more public comment before you rush this thing through,” said Arno.

Explaining the work needed to submit a request to the Legislature and the five-year plan for building a new public safety building, Mayor Beth Wythe said, “There’s nothing about it’s that’s quick. … This item has been on city CIP list for long period of time.”

The substitute ordinance was approved unanimously.

Closing comments from the audience and council returned to the HERC and Homer’s interest in recreation.

“I want to thank you for keeping the HERC building open and available this winter to recreation enthusiasts,” said Bonnie Jason, encouraging council members to stop by for a game of pickleball.

Chance Rockett focused his comments on recreation in general.

“Obviously over the last three or four meetings, since I gave my comments and others have come up here, we’ve shown you how important that is to Homer. More so than a lot of things,” said Rockett.

Howard took advantage of her closing comments to offer a challenge to the public “that between now and July 2014, you put some sort of package together to say to voters do you want a recreation department? If so, are you ready to tax yourselves for it? … We simply have to know what you want and how to pay for it.”

Also during the council meeting:

• City Manager Wrede reported Buccaneer Alaska’s interested bringing its jackup rig Endeavour-Spirit of Independence to Homer for the winter;

• The council did not approve Ordinance 13-037, amending the definition of “discontinued” as it applied to nonconforming uses;

•  The council did not approve Resolution 13-040, directing city administration to terminate all survey, design and cost estimating work on the Kachemak Drive pathway.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at