Cary News

Morrisville considers less expensive renovations for aquatic and fitness center

Morrisville officials presented Tuesday a revised proposal for renovating the Morrisville Aquatic and Fitness Center that would reduce costs from the original plan. But it still will exceed the $5.7 million bond approved by voters in 2012 for that purpose.

The revised concept projects the cost of a new indoor pool and locker rooms alone at just below the $5.7 million bond cap, while including alternate projects, such as expanded parking and fitness facilities, brings the total projected cost to just shy of $6.5 million.

That’s about $170,000 less than a similar but less comprehensive plan the Clark, Patterson and Lee firm presented in March 2015.

Jerry Allen, Morrisville’s director of parks, recreation and cultural resources, said the revised plan has a smaller footprint, which cuts construction costs enough to allow for renovations to the upstairs fitness center, weight room and tennis courts that had not been included in the first proposal.

Morrisville’s Town Council has yet to vote on the concept but offered support at its Feb. 23 meeting, with members indicating they plan to seek supplemental funding to pay for the full $6.5 million renovation of the 28-year-old building. Council member and mayor pro-tem Steve Rao said a final decision on the plan could occur this spring.

“It’s going to happen sooner rather than later,” Rao said after the meeting. “If we pull the trigger, it would be at least a year, two years before we start the renovation. It’s been four years since the bonds were approved. We need to move.”

The bond anticipated the MAFC’s renovation would cost about $4 million, with the remaining $1.7 million going toward improvements at Morrisville Community Park. Allen said rising construction costs and the absence of a feasibility study when the bond was proposed were both to blame for the $2.5 million discrepancy.

“We had a study for pool construction, but we didn’t have a full cost estimate for renovation and other interior work,” Allen said. “Part of it is also that the construction market in this area has changed so much in the last five years. You’re seeing escalation in construction prices, material costs, contractor costs.”

Plans to build a new facility from scratch as part of the Morrisville town center also appear to have been tabled.

The new concept’s priorities were shaped by a survey the town conducted asking residents what recreation-related expenditures they most approve of.

After walking trails, which received a “yes” from 96 percent of respondents, a renovated fitness center and an indoor pool were the most-approved items. Tennis courts also made the top five.

Rao said a previously discussed partnership with the YMCA likely wouldn’t be feasible in this case, given that the YMCA would be able to offer little to Morrisville other than perhaps a membership discount.

But Rao said he supports further exploration of public-private arrangements, which he said could eliminate the year-to-year costs of operation for the town. The MAFC currently loses about $250,000 a year in operating costs. Rao said renovations, while needed, would do little to increase the MAFC’s capacity and that he wants to continue to explore the possibility of a new facility in the town center that would.

He also said he has been approached by investors from the tennis industry, where he used to work, to improve courts and tennis facilities at Morrisville Community Park.

“Certainly in an era when we’re looking at whether we have enough money for roads and streets, we don’t want to be losing money,” Rao said. “We need to look at where we can at least cover costs and generate revenue.”

Gargan: 919-460-2604; @hgargan

Town retreat

Morrisville’s Town Council is on a retreat this weekend in New Bern. The town typically alternates between staying in the area and going out of town for its annual retreats, councilwoman Liz Johnson said.

The retreat agenda, adopted by the council at Tuesday’s meeting, includes sessions dedicated to the town’s budget and transportation plans, as well as time for a scenic trolley tour of historic New Bern.

Councilman Steve Rao and Mayor Mark Stohlman said they expected there would be further discussion of the MAFC renovations, though the topic doesn’t appear on the agenda.

The town council and staff will take one of the town’s new buses to the coast, a ride Johnson said is typically a “bonding experience.”