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Sensing backlash, City Council backs off $12.7M Rec plan

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Carroll City Council members likely will scale back an ambitious plan for modernizing the Rec Center, opting to scratch an estimated $12.7 million project in favor of more bite-sized updates they think will be more easily digested by a public they sense is fatigued from referendums and spending on the library, county jail and stadium.

“If you go with a $12 million referendum, it’s going to fail miserably, and that’s going to make it difficult to have a discussion about the Rec Center for a number of years,” City Manager Mike Pogge-Weaver said.

Improving the Rec Center emerged as a priority topic during a five-hour Carroll City Council strategic planning session last week at the new City Hall.

Councilwoman Carolyn Siemann agreed with Pogge-Weaver’s assessment on the Rec Center.

“It will not pass at this price tag,” she said.

The council reviewed an exhaustive plan for the Rec Center, one that would expand the indoor pool with more swimming and play space, add a second gym with an elevated walking track, upgrade the locker-and-changing areas and add more glass and natural light, among other things.

“There’s so much down there that needs to be done,” Mayor Eric Jensen said.

The council may still set a referendum, but likely for a smaller plan, with an emphasis on the walking track, which earned high marks in a citizens’ survey.

“I would have to say the walking track and the gym are more important than the pool,” Councilman Jerry Fleshner said.

Siemann said strong consideration should be given to modernizing the locker areas.

“You’re going to lose votes if you don’t include the locker rooms,” she said.

Siemann said she thinks voters, after seeing higher-than-projected costs surface for the Carroll County jail, will be less trusting of any figure used in a future referendum on the Rec Center.

Councilman Michael Kots said he’s concerned about the costs of expanding the Rec Center on long-term maintenance. He thinks improving the gym makes more sense than expanding the pool.

What’s more, Pogge-Weaver and Siemann both said they aren’t seeing a strong constituency behind a big Rec Center project, meaning a referendum is challenging from the start.

“We need a committed committee of people,” Siemann said.

The council will determine in coming meetings whether to stage smaller referendums, or perhaps use cash on hand to make more modest improvements at the Rec Center.

The reality is what I hear from the community is that they are just referendum-ed out,” Pogge-Weaver said.

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