Windsor center vote not a certainty

Published 11:29 am Wednesday, February 7, 2018

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

The Windsor Town Council has been fostering plans for a town center in a former middle school gym for years, but as the time approaches to make a final spending decision, there appears to be some hesitation. 

“I can’t say it’s a done deal at this point,” said Council member Macon Edwards of the interior renovation plans, which have varied in estimates from $750,000 to about $1 million

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The Town Council is expected to consider bids for the interior renovations at its Feb. 13 meeting. The meeting is so important that Council member Patty Flemming, who will be in Hawaii on that day, is planning to have a resolution passed allowing her to participate and vote via conference phone.

Flemming is a strong supporter of the interior renovation project, but is concerned there are not enough votes to make it pass. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Mayor Rita Richardson only votes if there is a tie among the other six Council members.  

The renovations include items such as heating and air-conditioning, as well as a catering kitchen, multiple bathrooms, an art/youth room, lounge, office, a lobby and reception area and a meeting room.  

Richardson said the facility is necessary for larger events in town, such as Breakfast with Santa, job fairs and an alternate indoor site for the town’s concert series, among other activities. 

Council member Durwood Scott said fellow Council member Walter Bernacki’s recent suggestion of building a multi-million dollar combined town hall, center and library on land the town had purchased, “put things in a tailspin.” 

As for the gym, Bernacki suggested it just be used for recreation. 

That idea put thoughts in other people’s minds about not putting any more money into the old gym and putting it all into a building on town-owned acreage next to Farmers Bank, Scott said. 

Flemming said the debt service on Bernacki’s multi-use facility, with estimates of up to  $8 million, is considerably more than the town puts aside each year for its space needs. 

The town has future plans to build a new municipal center on the town’s five-acre site. There is also room for a new library, but how that will be paid for is unknown at this time, although Isle of Wight officials have said the library is a county responsibility. 

The proposed town hall is estimated to cost $3.6 million, but actual construction isn’t slated for another 10 years. 

The town of Windsor has prided itself on paying for needs as it goes and not borrowing money. 

Richardson has said a combined facility would require town taxes to go up considerably and she doesn’t know how that would be received. 

Bernacki, who prides himself on knocking on doors and talking directly to many constituents, said he’s heard quite a bit of hesitation about the Town Center due to unanswered questions, namely the lack of written commitment from Isle of Wight County over programs and staffing, whether the available parking coincides with the proposed 500-person capacity and the ability to rent out the facility enough to pay for the upgrades, such as the kitchen. 

The Town Center is a want, not a need and at the same time, the library is busting at the seams, as is the municipal center, Bernacki said. 

If the town worked out a cost shared plan with the county on the library, sold some property and put down a hefty down payment, the cost of a multi-use facility could be doable with a minor tax increase, Bernacki said. 

“If we have to raise taxes a few pennies to make up the difference, that’s what it is, a few pennies,” he said, adding that other revenues, such as the meals and cigarette taxes, could also be used. 

Meanwhile, Edwards said the town has already accepted money from Isle of Wight County, as well as others, for renovating the gym and for that reason, it will open in some form. 

The current plans call for it being used for everything from basketball games to weddings and special events. 

While Scott isn’t against the gym being used for recreation, he has doubts that it would be rented often enough to cover the costs of upgrading it to a level suitable for wedding receptions and other special events. 

Scott is also concerned that the town has no idea what the operating costs would be.

At a recent Town Council meeting, Town Manager Michael Stallings said he is looking at the costs to run The Smithfield Center to get some sort of idea of utility costs. 

While everyone on the Council seems to want the gym to be used at least as a recreational facility, the choke point comes on how much to spend on it, said Town Council member Tony Ambrose.

Perhaps it would be best to renovate it as a recreational center, see how that goes and go from there, Ambrose said. 


The town bought the five acres from Farmers Bank in 2012, the same year the Town Council passed a resolution in support of keeping the old gym for community use.

At the time, Isle of Wight County was planning to demolish the old Windsor Middle School and gym, which was a separate structure, and build a new school, now Georgie D. Tyler Middle School on North Court Street.

When news circulated that the gym could be demolished, town officials approached the county about saving it as it was considered structurally sound. The plan was to provide recreational and meeting space at that end of the county. 

However, who would pay for its renovations was a big question mark at the time. Initially, the exterior renovations were to be included in the cost of building the new school, but bids came back too high and that funding plan was abandoned. 

Town officials applied for, and received, grants, as well as donations of money and time from the county, civic groups and others, for the exterior renovations. 

The Windsor Woman’s Club also began using the facility for its annual craft fair.

In 2016, the Town Council voted to move ahead with plans for the gym, renamed the Windsor Town Center. That move initiated a $20,000 assessment by Moseley Architects. Last year, the town moved $200,000 of its funds into the Windsor Center Trust Fund, which at the time, held about $80,000 in donations. 

Last month, Moseley Architects presented the town with a complete set of plans for the interior renovations. 

The Town Council also appointed an advisory board for the center, whose task was to provide direction on the interior renovations as well as devise bylaws and policies for the use of the building.  {/mprestriction}