A big-ticket plan to expand the Andover community center is sparking debate in the north metro city, as officials work to rein in costs and weigh whether to let voters chime in.
Expansion of the community center could add spaces for teens and seniors to gather, more meeting rooms, a sports gym, an indoor walking track and a new arena for ice and turf sports.
But many find the $18.9 million price tag — a recent estimate — tough to stomach.
“We all had sticker shock,” Mayor Julie Trude said.
The project has split the City Council, which voted 3-2 last month to move forward while directing staffers to cut costs. An $18.9 million project budget would mean a property tax hike of about $113 for owners of a $250,000 house, the median value in town.
Some residents point out that would come on top of the tax sting from a record-breaking $249 million referendum approved last fall by Anoka-Hennepin School District voters.
City Administrator Jim Dickinson said Andover now is working to shave just over $2 million from the price in an effort to limit the tax increase to no more than $100 for a $250,000 house.
That means looking for budget trims in areas like lighting, plumbing, landscaping, aesthetics and parking lot size. The city has spent about $300,000 so far on design development, he said.
“The buzzword is ‘value engineer’ the project down,” Dickinson said. “I’ve got work to do to get down to $16.8 million.”
The Parks and Recreation Commission plans to chip in $1 million of future fees from new home construction for the expansion. City documents show that the Andover Hockey Association has also indicated interest in pitching in $500,000 toward the new arena, estimated to cost $11 million.
Some are pushing for a referendum on the project, an option that’s stirred debate and is expected to come up at a Nov. 27 City Council workshop.
Council Member Sheri Bukkila said she views the expansion as a “community want” as opposed to a need. “That decision best lies with the taxpayer in the voting booth,” she said.
Bukkila said some aspects of the project, including the meeting rooms and spaces for teens and seniors, seem to have broader support than others. “Those assets fill gaps in services that we don’t have, or make them better,” she said.
At an Oct. 9 meeting, some residents pressed for a public vote on the project. Others argued that not enough people frequent the center to justify the head-turning cost, saying the expansion would mostly benefit certain groups such as the hockey community.
Trude said local hockey players are at a “competitive disadvantage,” lacking enough places to get ice time. The community center now has one sheet of indoor ice and was built with future growth in mind, she said.
“We’ve got a lot of people who are empty nesters and also people moving here because we have these amazing facilities,” she said. “Growth is putting a lot of stress on the building.”
The expansion is part of a broader master plan for the City Hall campus as well as the community center, which debuted in 2005 and is run in concert with the YMCA. The city runs the indoor ice arena and fieldhouse while the YMCA leases part of the building.
“Plenty of people that use it want it,” Bukkila said. “And plenty of people that don’t use it don’t want to pay for it.”