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Plans for the Palm Beach Recreation Center are headed in a new direction -- one with more support from town officials and residents.
Friends of Recreation, the group helping raise money for a new center, asked Tuesday for the Town Council's support to build a one- story, 15,000-square-foot center instead of a two-story, 23,000- square-foot center. The current building is about 11,000 square feet.
The proposed building would keep a multi purpose space, classrooms and game room, but it would have a smaller fitness center, snack bar and lobby, said Michael Ainslie, vice chairman of the group. The outdoor space would remain similar to the previous proposal by preserving the fields and a full basketball court, and by adding a larger playground and patio terraces.
Ainslie said Morton Mandel has said he's still willing to donate up to $5 million if the community supports the new plan.
"His goal all along has been to help provide our town with a new rec center that meets the expressed needs of our residents, but to do so in a way that unifies not divides our town," Ainslie said. "We hope this new one-story plan will be met with broad community support."
Deputy Town Manager Jay Boodheshwar said the new design would be less expensive than the original $15 million proposal, meaning the town's $5 million commitment would be reduced. Staffing, operation and maintenance costs also would decrease, he said.
"In a nutshell, we believe that the one-story structure will not compromise our ability to meet the changing needs of the community, will be more fiscally sustainable and will address valid concerns that were associated with the earlier two-story concepts," Boodheshwar said.
Council members supported the idea and thanked residents for working together.
"I think we have a perfect example of democracy at work," said Councilman Richard Kleid. "I think that the private sector and the town have listened very closely to the community input. They have heard the objections and reacted. We're now on what I see as Plan C, which seems a lot more acceptable. I'm excited. I think we've come a long way and I think we're on the right track."
Recreation Director Beth Zickar said new drawings and a detailed business plan will be presented to the council in January. If approved, the project would return to the Architectural Commission for review.
Some residents said they support the new plan but still don't like the idea of an adult fitness center.
"I do think we're going in the right direction," said Susan Watts. "It really is inspiring to see the community come together and overcome what could have been a divisive issue. The focus back to children is really important to us. I'm not sure about the 4,000- square-foot addition."
A few residents spoke about the need for a new survey to see what types of programs residents want at the center. More than 270 residents recently signed a petition for the survey.
"It might be a good plan, but I don't know how we can know that we have a good plan until we have a knowledge of what the plan is supposed to fulfill," said Page Lee Hufty.
"I think we could do a targeted survey really specifically asking people what they would use, what they would pay for, how much they would pay and how often they would use it."
The council voted to defer a decision on a survey until they see the new plan in January.
Hufty, like others, did not support a fitness center.
"I hate to have us basically subsidize a competition with the people who are courageous enough to rent space and open their doors to supply us," she said.
Other residents continue to oppose construction and would rather see the town renovate the existing building.
Tom Miller said the current recreation center is under utilized and a new building would primarily serve non residents.
"I think that we had here a very good effort by somebody to give money and we're looking for a way to spend it," said Miller, to applause from the audience. "Think about the citizens who live here. We do not need a new rec center."
Anne Pepper suggested the Mandels instead pay for a recreation project at Phipps Ocean Park.
"Phipps Park is very under utilized as well, has a great deal of space; could support that exercise and fitness center; and could possibly support sailing and rowing and other things that people indicated they'd like to have happen at Seaview," she said.
Susan Gary told the council that voters should decide whether to build a new recreation center.
"It's been very controversial and I don't think the issues are resolved yet," she said. "I think it's a fair item to put to the voters and see what they think."
The council said they want to see the project move forward.
"I think this is a good step in the right direction," said President Michael Pucillo. "I think a new building does make sense. There is a lot of good here. The listening should continue. I hope this is a project we can all come together on, and that if we can't get unanimity, we can get pretty close to it."
Council members told staff to be cognizant of the construction schedule.
"This town is at a tipping point with construction fatigue," said Councilwoman Bobbie Lindsay. "They simply don't want any more. At least consider that, whatever we decide to do, doesn't need to be done now."
-- akopf@ pbdailynews.com Twitter: @aleesekopf
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