It’s been a busy decade for the Centre Region Council of Governments — with debate and approval of the new Schlow library, the COG office building and the three regional parks, to name a few — and the need for a new parks maintenance facility has become somewhat urgent.
Parks and Recreation Director Ron Woodhead said he’s known of that need for the last decade, but the question was when to bring it forward to the five municipalities that participate in the park program.
The time is now, and new information this week related to potentially continuing a relationship with State College Borough’s own Public Works facility helps with the agency’s planning.
But Woodhead is asking for budgeted funding to begin the planning process for a new, centrally located space and it must be under construction in 2014 or the agency must have a place to rent in the interim. He estimates the latter would cost $40,000 a year, and most available locations are on the edges of the region.
The COG parks agency mows, landscapes and otherwise maintains 908 acres at 54 parks across the region, with three large parks coming online in the next few years — Oak Hall and Whitehall Road regional parks, and the Bernel Road Park in Patton Township.
“This all comes down to the fact that we’ve greatly increased our park acreage in the last 20 years,” Woodhead told Ferguson Township supervisors earlier this month. Two decades ago, the agency maintained 400 acres.
Today, the central maintenance facility shares the borough’s Public Works site on Osmond Street. The partnership started decades ago, and COG doesn’t pay to lease the land.
But the borough also needs a new facility and will reconfigure its site. Public Works Director Mark Whitfield said staff started looking in 2009 because the current facility, built in 1961, floods consistently.
“The roof is in bad shape, the concrete floor is in bad shape,” he said. “It’s lived its life, and the fact that it’s in the flood area, it seemed prudent to relocate it to higher ground and build a much more modern facility.”
The borough bought the neighboring former Sheesley Concrete yard, about 2.6 acres, bringing the total site to more than 9 acres, part of which is in Ferguson Township. Whitfield said a new plan will move the buildings and use the flooding portion for stormwater management, as well as a soccer field and playground area.
The cost estimate for the borough is $6.2 million, and Whitfield said the hope is to seek architectural services this fall, with construction sometime next fall. Because part of the site is in Ferguson, the borough had to submit a development plan and is in the back end of the five years in which they must execute the project.
At the start of the process, the borough asked COG if it wanted to join the new plan. The parks agency wasn’t ready, so the borough went ahead. At that time, it was working on reconstruction of the two community swimming pools.
“They truthfully never said yes or no or maybe,” Whitfield said.
Ferguson then rezoned the Sheesley property, adding a complication if COG wants to continue sharing the borough site. And with the five-year clock ticking, Whitfield said his staff needs to know relatively soon.
That’s still a possibility, and something the municipalities will discuss. A study of potential COG building locations was completed last month by State College-based APArchitects, which recommended the coming Whitehall Road Regional Park as the ideal location.
“What makes sense is to have the headquarters where we have our largest park,” Woodhead said. “We have more invested here than any park.”
At the time, the borough site was off the table. But a meeting between borough and COG officials this past week renewed the possibility.
Whitfield said COG’s vacation of the current site could also be more flexible, but that it needs to formulate a plan soon.
“We’ve got to move forward with ours,” he said. “So we’ll do whatever we can to accommodate them as long as we can, but that’s not a finite number of years.”
Woodhead presented a concept plan to elected officials late last month.
It calls for 1.5 acres to house about 16,000 square feet of buildings, including space for equipment service, offices, storage and bulk bins. The estimated project cost is $2.2 million, which Woodhead acknowledges is high, and he anticipates it will decrease during final planning.
Officials generally agree that the new building is needed, but have concerns about the cost and location. Woodhead has discussed the issue with College, Ferguson, Harris and Patton townships. The borough will discuss it tonight.
“We’re basically in favor,” said Ferguson Chairman George Pytel. “We understand that you’ve got to have it.”
Supervisor Bill Keough and State College Council President Don Hahn worry about the high price tag and hope to bring it down.
Hahn also said it doesn’t seem feasible to retain the shared site with the borough, and Dan Klees of College Township agreed.
“Because of the timing of the borough’s project, I’m not in favor of co-locating there,” he said. “I think the COG deserves its own facility.”
A further complication when the municipalities discuss the issue as a group could be a recent vote on an unrelated sewer service area expansion. Ferguson opposed, to the frustration of other officials. Some say this will make agreement to place the building at Whitehall, in Ferguson, more difficult.
“If we have the opportunity to move out of that township, I think we’d want to do that,” said Bryce Boyer, of Patton Township.
Jessica VanderKolk can be reached at 235-3910. Follow her on Twitter @jVanReporter