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Stockert Youth & Community Center Concept Presented to City Council - Members Express Concerns

June 18, 2022

BUCKHANNON, WV - Michael Mills, Managing Principal of the Mills Group visited with Buckhannon City Council this past Thursday evening to present their Stockert Youth & Community Center concept video.

"Tonight we're here to present the Stockert Youth & Community Center. We've had the privilege to work with the commission for about eight months (at various monthly meetings). The results of this building really comes from a dialogue with them... kind of a needs assessment and programmatic data that came from the users," Mills stated.

A 3-D rendering of the new Stockert Youth & Community Center's multipurpose building - The Mills Group. Image courtesy of the Mills Group via city engineer Jay Hollen

The proposed 11,500 square-foot building would be clad entirely in brick; the rear areas of the main level would include a large meeting room/event center and house a 50x90 basketball court, which would couple as a multi-purpose room with fold-away bleachers to host various community events.

Exteriorly, the front part of the building would be a story and a half with the main entry accessed via a ramp in lieu of stairs.

Between the two buildings (conceptually), an outdoor classroom or amphitheater/community meeting place was proposed to 'put a face on the street to engage the space between two of the buildings - a connecting element from a pedestrian perspective to the back fields with potential connectors to the existing building’.

Within the interior, the entry level would include a reception/vestibule area housing a check-in desk, elevator, workout room, public restrooms and a facilities closet.

The lower floor (updated since the last meeting) would include locker rooms and a storage room; Funding for a potential emergency shelter/supply storage area is being explored. Closets for basic storage would also be implemented with concessions located at each rear corner.

Mills shared a video that was put together by his firm to give an overall better perspective of the project's concept. Following the video presentation, a few concerns were voiced by council members.

L-R; City Recorder Randy Sanders, Mayor Robbie Skinner, Councilor Jack Reger, Councilor CJ Rylands and Councilor Pam Bucklew

Councilman CJ Rylands reflected on the history of the property and its evolution to the present day. He further shared his concerns regarding community involvement in the development of the center and the proposal's lack of attachments to the old building.

“I think we only have one opportunity to do this... we possibly haven't reached out enough into the community to see what their expectations of a community center are.

Maybe it's time or an opportunity to try to broaden the vision and look at the whole property... and I would like to see more people involved in the process.

The old building... I was advocating that they be connected because if we move everything over there that's going to become a relic... I would like to elevate the old building in conjunction with offering this new space and would also like to see some planning sessions... meet with different groups to ask what they want to see in a community recreation center...

Why rush one of the biggest investments we've ever made as a municipality...

The community's going to be paying this back for forty years. And I'm not afraid to take a little more time and spend a little more money, or a lot more money to get what's going to serve this community for the next several decades," Rylands said.

City Recorder Randy Sanders clarified that the old building will be used just as it is now and will remain fully active, but Councilor Rylands recommended that the addition of life safety systems, such as sprinkler/fire suppression systems should also be considered and included with the investment.

"If you're going to do something, do it all at once and spend the amount of money to get it done," Rylands stated.

Councilor Jack Reger offered his thoughts on the differing views regarding the project:

"I think the community's had opportunities to participate in the process. To me, this is like purchasing church carpeting... Everybody's going to have an [comment or] opinion... I do appreciate the work that's been accomplished...

I don't know what else to say. I think that having more public meetings would just create more angst and that decisions need to be made. Not everyone's going to be happy. People will be happy and that's the way this is going to go. So, that's my two cents and I'll give you a dollar for a coffee at McDonalds, alright,” Reger said.

Mayor Robbie Skinner raised concerns regarding the concept or placement of the new buildings within the one hundred year flood zone:

"We've got to be careful with the land as well... If there's more that we want included in this... The reason we've purchased the properties that we purchased, if you'll recall, was to turn this longways on east main street, not perpendicular because of the flood zone. We really want to keep this away from the flood zone because, long term, it will pay for itself just by keeping it out of that. So, we have to be careful in the footprint of the physical plan as to where it goes larger than where it is now... I believe we are very close to the line that would put us in the one hundred year flood zone. We really can't go much further away from main street... we've just got the space that we've got," Skinner said.

With Councilor Rylands' recommendation, Council agreed that an effort to reach out to various community organizations via an ‘asking tour’ should proceed in an effort to consensualize the project for the entire community.

While Mayor Skinner and City Recorder Sanders agreed, they urged people to respond with expediency in the process. A rough time frame for community involvement meetings are expected to conclude within six months to ensure the city is able to lock in the lowest lending rate possible for the project.

Discussions of putting together a consistent package while working in tandem with the Stockert Youth & Community Center Board are ongoing with the goal of giving various community groups a voice in the center's development.

Stockert Youth & Community Center Board member Don Nestor was in attendance and also addressed Council:

“For the last twenty-five years, we’ve been working on this thing. And it’s developed. I think it’s great what we’re considering here. I think this is really a tremendous opportunity…”

Mr. Nestor agreed that providing a short presentation within the community organizations to receive ideas and suggestions for improving the project is essential, but urged that action be taken soon.

“We want to move ahead as quickly as we can. We don’t want to rush, but we really want to move ahead because every year we lose kids. Kids move through this community… and every year we have that potential loss of reaching out to the kids.

The program is multi-faceted… We’re having over 12,000 hours on the average of youth involved every month without considering the PALs Program and the alternative school. So there’s a lot of activities there. All the schools in the county get kids dropped off there after school for an afterschool program… there’s just a lot of things going on there.”

Councilman Dave Thomas expressed concerns regarding the total investment of this and other various projects the City has invested in over the past several years:

“Let’s take another look at this. If we don’t do this, we still have a great community. And as you say (Don), 12,000 hours a month now for our youth… have we thought about what the incremental benefit’s going to be spending about $3.5 million on this complex," Thomas asked.

.”I don’t take it lightly. It’s an investment.” Rylands retorted.

Mr. Nestor further addressed Councilor Thomas’ concerns:

“As you mentioned Dave, is this something that we should go ahead and do now? What can happen? We have a lot of activity now (12,000 hours per month). But we’re at risk of losing important people... Can we maintain the 12,000 hours?...

We’re a coordinated facility. The (public) school system is stressed very much because we have to share gymnasium space… they have two classes in our building. The coordination of what’s going on with the education is important. I’m not sure how long that’s going to be at the level that’s at now.

This is a package for Buckhannon. This is a package for Upshur County,” Nestor said.

This is a developing story. We will keep you up-to-date with all scheduled 'Community Asking Tours' and all other information pertaining to the development of our Stockert Youth & Community Center.

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