Task force gets up close look at HERC

Those tasked with determining the future of the Homer Education and Recreation Complex got an up-close look at what they’re dealing with — decades old buildings in various stages of disrepair — during a walk-through held in place of their last meeting June 26.

It was the body’s first time meeting as an eight-person task force, with the addition of Deb Lowney from the Parks, Art, Recreation and Culture Commission. Lowney was added as a voting member to the force after the Homer City Council voted on June 25 to expand the body to specifically include a member of PARCAC. Previously, the resolution that set up the task force merely stated that it could have up to one member from the commission sitting on it as a voting member.

Deputy City Planner Julie Engebretsen led the task force and members of the public through both buildings, along with city staff with knowledge of the buildings and Mike Illg, another member of PARCAC and director of the city’s Community Recreation Program.

Task force members listened to a rundown of the current state of the buildings and asked questions about their construction and history, as did the members of the public who tagged along.

The buildings used to come with a caveat from the city which limited them to being used solely for community recreation purposes. That is no longer the case, Engebretsen said. The task force is charged with determining whether the upper level of the HERC building currently used by the public can be utilized without capital improvements. The council has also directed the body to figure out the minimum improvements needed for the entire HERC facility to be used safely, as well as what it would cost to demo the HERC and build a new facility for community recreation needs.

As it currently stands, the gym in the main HERC building is up to code to accommodate 50 people at a time. The bleachers had to be removed because they left the potential for more people to enter the room. City staff told the task force that, if they wanted to expand the recreation opportunities in the HERC gym, significant improvements would have to be made to bring it further up to code and allow for a higher occupancy.

While the building with the gym on the lower level is the only one in which members of the public are regularly allowed, both buildings are used for city surplus storage. Mike Riley, who represented the city’s building maintenance department during the walk-through, has his office in the HERC building that’s currently in worse shape and where the public is not allowed. He said that, should it ultimately be decided that the HERC be torn down and replaced with something else, the city would have to figure out where to store all those surplus items.

Riley said that, with a new police station being built, there is the potential that the old station on Heath Street could be used for storage, but that building comes with its own host of issues.

Engebretsen asked task force members at the end of the tour to compile a list of questions they had following the walk-through that can be forwarded to consultants helping them work on the issue. They also had several questions for the city and members of PARCAC relating to the history of the buildings.

Reach Megan Pacer at mpacer@homernews.com.