BERLIN – Elected officials agreed this week to create a committee to focus on planning for a community center.
The Berlin Town Council voted 5-0 Monday to create the Community Center Development Committee (CCDC) to focus on planning for a facility. The move comes after residents took to social media last week to address the need for a community center on Flower Street to replace the aging multi-purpose building.
“We live in a great community blessed with talented folks and the ‘it can wait until next year’ mantra on this long-awaited project, I agree, should no longer be in our vocabulary,” Councilman Jack Orris said.
Though the council eliminated the $27,500 Mayor Zack Tyndall proposed for a community center feasibility study from the budget, council members stressed that they supported bringing a community center to town.
“No one wants to not have a community center,” Councilwoman Shaneka Nichols said. “That right there is blasphemy all day long. It truly is. We all want it. My oldest is 26. I have been preaching community center since Bennett Bozman was alive with breath in his body.”
Councilman Dean Burrell said his vote to override the mayor’s budget veto was not intended to be in opposition of a community center. He shared that the multi-purpose building was sentimentally important to him, as it was the first place he’d danced with his wife.
“So it’s very special to me,” he said. “The last administration came up with the idea, with the community needing a community center, wouldn’t it be a good idea to utilize that site over on Flower Street for construction of a center that would serve the entire community. Then and now, I feel that is a very good idea. And if it’s not out of the way, I would like to suggest that the mayor develop a committee to discuss and to come up with what a community center might look like here in Berlin.”
Orris echoed his comments. He said the town should create a committee and have it report to the council quarterly.
“I’ll be making a motion tonight that the council support the mayor in creating a committee of interested and concerned residents, while still reserving our right to approve membership, to focus on the short- and long-term planning for a community center,” he said.
Tyndall asked what the purpose of the committee would be.
“For interested and concerned residents to come together and discuss ideas,” Orris said. “Their scope is to investigate what it is we want as a community and how we’re going to get there.”
He said that there were so many ideas circulating that community residents needed to come together and discuss them, particularly since the town already had more than $400,000 in funding set aside to go toward the project.
Tyndall said he was trying to understand what the council wanted. He asked if the committee should have a specific site for the community center in mind.
“That would be a good discussion among the committee,” Orris said.
Burrell said he felt the committee should should for now just focus on what the community center should include.
“Everybody agrees that the town of Berlin needs or should have a community center but we don’t know what that should look like,” he said. “I would suggest that this committee have just one goal and that is to solicit input from the community as to what they would like to see a community center look like.”
Tyndall said he thought a site needed to be determined first. Burrell maintained the committee could offer insight into the location. When Tyndall asked how the committee would solicit input, Burrell said it would be similar to the way the town council represented Berlin’s citizens.
“By being really selective of who we ask to serve, we could get input from the various neighborhoods,” he said.
Tyndall said the town needed to capture what residents had to say.
“You want to make sure you don’t lose the stuff along the way and that data can be aggregated along the way and used for something sustainable,” he said. “That’s the whole point. Let’s talk for a moment about what the best way to move forward with the community center, maybe start with bringing somebody in to lead community planning. It would be a fraction of the cost of the $27,500. It would accomplish many of the things you’re talking about here this evening. It would be in a tangible way and once that project is done it’s scalable in a direction that’s going to get us somewhere.”
Burrell said he just wanted to get citizens together.
“I don’t believe that there needs to be a separate budget item for us to bring people together and talk about what they would like to see,” he said.
Tyndall said when the town did similar projects it typically brought an outside body in to lead discussion.
“I don’t believe we’re there yet,” Burrell said. “We don’t even know what we want.”
Tyndall again brought up the location issue and pointed out that the process would be complicated if citizens wanted a community center on the site of the multi-purpose building, as that wasn’t town-owned. Burrell stressed that it was too early in the process to talk about location.
Councilman Jay Knerr agreed and said the mayor was advancing the project in a direction the town didn’t need to go yet.
“You could ask 10 different people in this town what they want to see in a community center and you would get 10 different answers,” he said. “You put a committee of citizens together you can determine exactly what you want to do. Then you take it to the next level. Then you do the feasibility study. I think starting off small with the committee we could move this thing forward like it hasn’t been in years.”
The council voted unanimously to create a community center committee. Though Orris suggested providing it with $10,000 in funding, the council agreed to wait to discuss funding once the committee had been created and begun its efforts.