Grassroots Group Wants Recreational Space

     There’s a group in the Homer area pushing for more indoor recreational space in town. The members of ReCreate Rec are asking city officials for a Parks and Recreation needs assessment to find out if the city could see benefits from a new building. The group wants the Homer City Council to put funds in next year’s budget for that assessment.

     ReCreate Rec started meeting in April of last year. 

     “We started meeting around the issue of losing the space at the HERC building,” ReCreate Rec Organizer Kate Crowley said. 

     The city performed an assessment of the old Homer Middle School to see if the building was worth renovating. According to that 2012 report, the necessary improvements would cost the city $10 million. That’s when city officials really started talking about tearing the building down instead. And now that piece of land where the HERC building currently sits is being considered for the proposed public safety building. 

     Crowley said, to her and the other roughly 70 members of ReCreate Rec, losing that space is a problem. But she isn’t sure there’s a consensus among people in town. That’s where a needs assessment might be able to help find what Crowley called “the gaps.”

     “One that pops up right away in my head is the Boys and Girls Club. A community of our size, there’s a need there that isn’t getting met right now. So we need to look at our numbers, our population numbers, and this needs assessment is designed to do that in a… third party way. We’d like the city’s help in getting this information because we… are wondering how in depth is this. Is it just our perception… or is it really true,” she said.

     She said she’s heard from the more obvious groups like Bruins basketball and Popeye wrestling, which will always benefit from gym space. But there are other organizations like the Homer Council on the Arts that Crowley said have mentioned the need for shared studio space. 

     “And possibly a performance space that would fill a niche smaller than the Mariner Theater,” she said.

     Performers and organizations have been able to use school buildings in the past, but the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District has been implementing tighter restrictions on how and when space can be used for the district’s own liability protection. Crowley said that means a new building might be helpful, but needs to know more. She said the needs assessment could cost in the neighborhood of $40,000.

     “Luckily we have David Lewis… who wrote an amendment to the budget for $35,000. ReCreate Rec has been working to accept pledges that would only be used if the needs assessment were passed,” she said. 

     So far the group has received almost $4,200 in pledges. Crowley said she hopes the city council will take the efforts more seriously if they see there’s buy-in from residents. 

     “The city council is wondering if recreation… is important to this community. These are tough times…. I think that the community needs to show up and speak to this,” she said.

     The council will be discussing the 2014 budget during the next meeting on Monday Nov. 25. Crowley said public comment will be taken at that point as well. 

     She said if the needs assessment happens and there are indeed gaps in what’s offered, the next step would be to find a funding source to construct an indoor recreational space. Crowley said one option would be to create a Recreational Service Area with similar boundary lines to the Kachemak Emergency Service area. Though there could be a little flexibility when it comes to drawing those boundaries. 

     But she pointed out no money will be borrowed and nothing will be built without an up or down vote from residents. She expects to have a question on the October 2014 ballot if the needs assessment starts the domino effect.