Berlin To Survey Citizens On Future Recreation Hopes

BERLIN –  Town officials agreed this week to begin searching for a firm to conduct a survey gauging community interest in recreation facilities.

Berlin councilmembers instructed Town Administrator Laura Allen to issue a request for proposals (RFP) to identify firms interested in conducting a survey regarding local interest in recreation services and facilities.

“We’re not aiming it toward a specific location or the YMCA but I think we need to maybe give people an opportunity to say here’s the list of things, some might be recreation, some might be programs and services aimed for youth and others maybe for active seniors…,” Mayor Gee Williams said. “That’s where we need someone with experience in this kind of thing so we’re not missing the obvious by making it too limited and on the other hand I would say, I believe, that we’re looking for needs where we can partner with a variety of people who provide these services, including Worcester County.”

Last month, the Berlin Falls Park Advisory Committee recommended the town contract with Triangle2 Solutions, the consulting firm preferred by the YMCA, for a YMCA feasibility study. Committee members believe a YMCA might be a good addition to the town’s new park.

Councilmembers, however, had questions about how Triangle2 Solutions would conduct the study and what information the town would receive in the end.

Town Administrator Laura Allen told the council this week she’d contacted Triangle2 CEO Lori Swann in an effort to get answers to those questions. Swann told her the company, which was founded in 2000, served churches, schools and YMCAs. She said 75 percent of their work related to YMCAs.

“She also said in terms of the analysis that about 30 to 50 percent of the deals they look at do not break even,” Allen said. “Another way of putting it is they don’t pencil out so they don’t proceed.”

Allen suggested the town would want a paper and web-based survey to determine what the community wanted in terms of services and facilities. She said the paper survey could be included with town utility bills while the online survey could be on the town’s website.

“One of the questions that Triangle2 said they typically had on their surveys is ‘would you want to increase taxes for recreation’ so we would want to include that question as well,” Allen said. “The paper and web-based survey could be followed up with focus group meetings or community meetings to get additional information.”

She said if the town was then interested in pursuing a YMCA there would need to be a contractual relationship with Triangle2 so the company could conduct a phone survey.

“This would be a statistically valid survey where they would make sure that they got answers from a representative population of the town,” Allen said. “They look at the demographics and make sure they survey folks that fit within that population.  When you do a survey across the community you’re not going to get 100 percent response rate. You might get 20 percent. So the idea is the phone survey taps into community members across all demographics.”

Allen said that Triangle2 projected a cost of about $20,000 to $25,000 for the paper, web-based and phone surveys.

Williams asked whether the surveying could be done by town staff.

“If we wanted to have a survey that’s say independent of the YMCA, especially in this early stage, we want to make sure that we’re getting input about what the needs are in the community, what services, what programs, what recreational and other things that people in this community feel they should have and want to have,” he said. “Is that something where we’d need to contract with a surveying firm? Because we can do a lot in house.”

Allen said she’d recommend the town issue an RFP to identify a skilled survey firm to handle the task.

“Given the interest and the overall breadth of the issue you’d want someone with some expertise to do the survey,” she said. “You’d also be looking for somebody with some facilitation skills that’s done this kind of work.”

The council agreed to have staff develop and put out an RFP for the work. Councilman Zack Tyndall said he wanted to be sure that when the focus group meetings were held, they were held at two different locations, such as town hall and the Flower Street Multi-Purpose Building.

In an interview after Monday’s meeting, Allen said staff members were in the process of developing the RFP, something she expected would take a couple weeks. She said officials knew that residents were interested in additional recreation opportunities but hoped a surveying firm could narrow the list down.

“We’re interested in understanding what the community would like to see in terms of recreation services and facilities,” she said, adding that the council wanted to look at the issue broadly.

She said Triangle2 would be sent the RFP but that the company would decide whether to respond or not.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.