An $8 million Windsor building?

Published 11:44 am Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Put it all together, councilman says

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

WINDSOR — With the cost to renovate the Windsor Town Center estimated at nearly $1 million, Windsor Town Council member Walter Bernacki proposed another idea — tack on a few more million and build it bigger.

Why not incorporate a town center with a library and municipal building to make a one-stop destination for residents, said Bernacki at the Nov. 14 Town Council meeting.

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As for the former Windsor Middle School gym, which is currently slated to be the town center, get that up to a “useable” level, but that’s it, he said. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Bernacki said the majority of people he talked to liked the idea of an integrated center. And he said it’s a design that’s been successful in other localities.

Under the current plan, the Windsor Town Center is located next to Georgie D. Tyler Middle School on North Court Street, and the proposed municipal center, and likely a new library, would be located on five acres of town-owned property across Shirley Drive from Farmers Bank off Route 460.

Council member Patty Flemming liked the idea of an integrated complex, but did point out that many residents have put a lot of effort into the current town center location.

“I want to be in something. There’s an actual structure there and there’s been a lot of sweat and tears,” said Flemming about the current town center location, which if all goes to plan, should open next fall.

Bernacki said the town could get grants to make the old gym “useable” for sports, and estimated the integrated complex would cost around $8 million.

“It’s a better use of town money,” he said.

Bernacki’s estimated $8 million price tag for his plan gave Mayor Rita Richardson pause — not only because it would require borrowing money but also because she thought his square footage costs were too low.

As long as residents realize that this won’t be built with the current $10 cent tax rate, Richardson said.

“Taxes are going to have to go way up. If they want to do it, I say great,” she said, adding that she does like the idea of an integrated municipal building and library.

Council member Tony Ambrose said he was reluctant to walk away from the current town center plans, and besides, the town has already appropriated $100,000 for an architect to design the facility.

At the same time, Windsor needs to provide its residents something for their money, he said.

Council member Macon Edwards said the town needs to save the building, but doesn’t need to put a lot of money into it.

Richardson asked staff to provide some firm numbers on what the town would have to borrow to build an integrated municipal building, library and town center.

“Give us the facts,” she said.

Earlier this year, the Town Council unveiled plans for a new 7,800 square foot municipal building at an estimated cost of $3.6 million. Its construction, however, is scheduled for up to 10 years in the future.

Currently the town of Windsor’s general fund has no debt, but the town does have a legal debt limit of about $18 million, said Stallings in an email.

The town’s strategy has been to try and save as much as possible for capital projects so the town doesn’t have to borrow money and that remains the case, Stallings said.

Stallings anticipates that the town will likely have to borrow money for the new municipal building.

Meanwhile, the Windsor Town Center is being crafted out of the former middle school gym, which was built in the 1960s. The structure is expected to have about 14,600 square feet and the design includes, aside from the gymnasium, an art room, office/reception area, seating lounge, kitchen, meeting room and several storage rooms. The Isle of Wight County School Board owns the building and the town is leasing it for $1 a year for 20 years.

The center has received donations from several local organizations, as well as a pledge of $100,000 from Isle of Wight County in 2013.

Two days after the Windsor Town Council met, the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors agreed to give the town another $50,000 over a two-year period.

As for the library, the Town Council and Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors discussed the issue of Windsor’s too-small facility at a recent intergovernmental meeting. The town and county decided to form a task force that will come up with ideas for a new library.

The Town Center Advisory Board is currently drafting a rental rate and use policy for the Windsor Town Center.  {/mprestriction}