In the end, it became a rush job.
Whether in support or oppose the sports complex proposal at the selected site west of the high and middle schools off Route 50, there is no disputing the $11 million bond to buy the land and develop it has been fast tracked.
Yes, the sports complex talk has been around for about 15 years, but it’s wrong to say a tremendous amount of work has gone into this effort. A handful of sites were explored with the county being locked in on the chosen site for about a year. The county says due diligence and major evaluations of county land took place. We doubt it.
As expected, the public hearing was a
charade. The vote was already in – the $7.1 million property acquisition through an $11 million bond (remainder for site development) was going to pass no matter what the speakers had to say. In fact, legitimate questions were posed about traffic configurations, water and sewer services, annexation into Berlin, public availability, impact on the nearby schools, recreation league usage, private party operators and indoor building space. There were no answers provided because the public hearing format precludes it, but the reality is nobody knows. There are no answers to many questions.
Work will now begin on figuring out all the details. It’s been an odd process, fueled by the election in July that could drastically reshape the commissioners’ makeup. It seems obvious to us the $11 million price tag is far too conservative. Unless Ocean City is going to chip in a sizable amount of partnership funding – a point evidently under consideration – the financial model does not add up. Other facilities across the state and mid-Atlantic topped out at double the county’s bond amount, and those efforts were completed pre-pandemic and without the current inflation crisis.
As far as back as 2012, we have been in support of a sports complex for the county. We worry about the site and without assurances on potentially negative impacts on our schools and the Town of Berlin it’s tough to support moving forward at this time.
County Commissioner Josh Nordstrom, who made the motion to approve the bond, said, “it not only should go here it has to go here.” The commissioner is wrong. It does not have to be built on this site. There must be other options worthy of consideration.
Perhaps most disturbing about the whole rushed effort is the lack of discussion with Berlin. The assumption is the county must not want the town to annex the property to provide water and sewer service. Nonetheless, there is no excuse for no communication with the town on this project. Even if the county can figure out a way to handle its own sewer and water, there will be negative impacts on the town from an infrastructure standpoint. How those will be mitigated are unclear. The fact is nobody knows at this point.
No matter whether in support or oppose the project in general and the specific site, it’s indisputable this was rushed and has not been thought out. Sure, there have been lots of public and private talks about a sports complex, but the real planning has been absent. We can only hope for the best now as the county truly dives into the effort with real work.