Brunswick residents express concern over future of rec center

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BRUNSWICK — Residents at the Town Council budget workshop Monday made their opinions heard loud and clear: they want to keep the Recreation Center right where it is.

The council was holding its public hearing on budgets for the Parks and Recreation Department and the Capital Improvement Plan. But most of the nearly four-hour meeting focused on the possibility the town will move its main recreation operations from downtown to a former U.S. Navy building at Brunswick Landing.

Residents mobilized to keep the 30 Federal St. building after the town announced last week that Wiscasset-based Coastal Enterprises Inc. is considering purchasing the rec center, and combined municipal building and police station.

While some residents said they don’t oppose the town’s plan to acquire the Brunswick Landing building, they said it should only be used to augment the Federal Street facilities.

“My biggest concern about the move is the distance from town and how kids will get out there,” said Vladimir Douhovnikoff, of Longfellow Road. “I’m hoping that if this were to go forward, that you would give some serious consideration about the potential for a bike path or some other way the kids can access this property without having to go down Bath Road. It’s a pretty dangerous road.”

A woman who only identified herself as “Kathleen” said she has a child who will attend the Recreation Department’s preschool program this fall, and expressed concerns about the program possibly moving nearly four miles away.

She challenged Town Manager Gary Brown’s claim that the town has been transparent about its plans to move primary recreation facilities to the former Navy base.

“Why were other parents and I not informed about the chance of a move this year or next year when we enrolled and placed a down payment for our children to attend this fall?,” she said. “… When I asked the staff about this, they informed me they were unable to talk about it. This is not transparent.”

Members of the NorthWest Brunswick Neighborhood Association also spoke out about the plan and the lack of transparency, although Claudia Knox, another association member, e-mailed councilors on Wednesday to clarify that not all members oppose the plan.

“The Board represents itself without benefit of consultation of any sort with association members,”said Knox, who is also a member of the Brunswick Downtown Association.

Before Monday’s public hearing, Parks and Recreation Director Thomas Farrell guided the council through the department’s budget and discussed the implications of moving into the former U.S. Navy recreation building sooner if the CEI deal goes through.

Under the proposed budget for fiscal 2014, the town would spend about $33,500 to operate the existing Recreation Center and $22,300 to operate the new recreation building.

If the town had to move into the new recreation building sooner, it would only have to spend about $15,800 to keep basic operations running for the occasional event and then about $142,300 to operate the new building for about 10 months.

Farrell said the new building’s large parking lots would be a major improvement over the current building’s parking situation. He also said the new building would provide more amenities, including several basketball courts, a fitness center, an indoor track and expanded office space.

“There’s significant space that could serve for the preschools,” Farrell said.

The council didn’t make any recommended changes to the Parks and Recreation Department’s budget Monday night. Councilors are expected to continue budget deliberations at their May 20 meeting before their deadline to approve a budget by May 23.

CEI announced last week that it will conduct research over the next several months to consider the viability of moving its Wiscasset headquarters to Brunswick. Details of CEI’s proposal have not been disclosed while the private, nonprofit community development and financial institution negotiates with the town.

Dylan Martin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow him on Twitter: @DylanLJMartin.