To build or renovate…that is the question.

The City Council's chambers were filled with a standing room only crowd Tuesday night. The council and City Parks board members and interested citizens viewed a presentation by Dwayne Brinkley and Stephen Springs of the Brinkley Sargent architecture firm for the community recreation facilities.

The plan included the public's input regarding the swimming pool, seniors center, recreation hall, community recreation center, present and future sites, and developing a preliminary space program and budget options.

A series of meetings at the seniors center on July 26 included the park staff, city council members, seniors advisory board, and members of the community. Input from those meetings was studied by the architect's firm and a proposal prepared for renovating present facilities or rebuilding.

Brinkley said the most popular public requests made were for a leisure aquatic area with play features, multi-use spaces, and a large meeting area. Other requests were to have year-around aquatics, a combined facility, and an indoor track. The costs considered for suggested improvements were for construction, furniture and equipment, parking facilities, indirect costs, contingencies, and inflation costs assumed to Aug. 2009.

Brinkley said a minor renovation of the seniors center is not feasible due to its existing condition. There are extensive code compliance problems for the Americans Disability Act of 1990 (ADA) requirements and for the energy and building systems. The present building is a non-commercial structure with extensive visible damage caused by weather and pest infestation. A minor investment will not improve programming, he said. Any alterations to the primary function of the building might trigger other code compliance issues. Springs said that even minor improvements could create a domino effect requiring extensive work to bring the building into compliance.

He said there are issues for the outside entrance, as most enter from the parking lot. The second floor cannot be used at all without major renovation. The kitchen is inefficient, although the firm's representatives commended the seniors center's workers for utilizing what was available.

Brinkley said the seniors center has served a great purpose, but obviously needs updating. The preliminary budget for major reconstruction of the center would be $2 million. This would include gutting and rebuilding, while maintaining the front facade. After improvements are made, it would essentially be a new building.

Council member Barry Ratliff asked if the rec hall could be made into a senior center. Brinkley said he did not take that into consideration, but there would still need to be electrical work done and other inner structural work for code compliance.

The rec hall has some challenges if renovated. The building itself is sound, Springs said. Windows need to be replaced, plus those that have been boarded up would be redone for additional light. New mechanical systems would have to be considered, and toilets beneath the bleachers must be improved. He said there are ADA issues that don't meet current standards. The gym floor has undergone its last refinishing. Springs said that the 60-70 year old building has lived its useful life. The range of renovations for the rec hall is $1.5-$2 million.

A new swimming pool budget is based on a model community pool. The old pool will be razed and a new one of approximately 7,900 square feet of water area would share the site with the recreation center. The model pool plan included showers, bathhouse, play area, lap lanes, and concessions. A preliminary budget for the new pool is $2 million.

Brinkley presented the typical community recreation center from a location approximately the same size as Stephenville. The center's plans include multi-use rooms for multi-generations, a gym with walking track, and an aerobic section, staff room, game room, and a large meeting room for seniors. The plans also include a game room, craft room, and sufficient restrooms. A library component would be available and additional meeting space. A dedicated space would be available for a country store to sell crafts and other homemade items. An elevator would be installed for ADA compliance.

With total combined space including senior space requirements, there would be 51,594 square feet at a cost of $12.5 million. If the senior space is not included, there would be 46,051 square feet for $10.3 million.

Brinkley said there are disadvantages in renovation, one being interruption in services. Another consideration is that renovation will not increase the programming capacity, although it would maintain its downtown presence.

The positive considerations for building a new scenario, he said, was there would be no facility downtime, lower operations cost, plan efficiency versus renovation, and social interaction between patrons' age groups.

The site location is an important factor if a new building is constructed, Brinkley said. The slide of the park's 100-year floodplain indicates that the present rec center is within the floodplain. A portion of the available property for expansion at the northeast side would still be in the floodplain. The potential site at the southeast end of the park is outside of the floodplain area.

Council members and citizens asked Brinkley and Stephens several questions.

Mayor Rusty Jergins indicated that he had heard a request for an indoor pool facility which would be better utilized year around and that wasn't in the facilities plan. Brinkley said it was a matter of budget figures he was given, but the pool can be reworked into the plan and be presented.

Council member Malcom Cross endorsed the mayor's remark that an indoor pool would be more useful.

Council member Alan Nash requested clarification on the cost of a new building compared to a completely rejuvenated building and the amount of gained floor space for either project.

Other questions included the proposed multi-purpose areas. Also, the track's size was an issue because of the space it would take away from other areas.

The City Council asked that Brinkley Sargent consider the amendments proposed to the plan and present the suggested modifications when finalized.

SHERRY BOARDMAN is a staff writer for the Empire-Tribune and can be reached at sherry.boardman@empiretribune.com or 254-965-3124, ext. 229.