Crystal discusses financing community center repairs

By Cory Smith • Last Updated 12:41 pm on Friday, January 13, 2017

Crystal Township Clerk PattyBaker-Marek,left, and Trustee George Bahm, read through the township’s Crystal Community Center rental agreement, as township board members discussed re-evaluating the center’s rental structure during Wednesday evening’s township board meeting. — Daily News/Cory Smith

CRYSTAL TOWNSHIP — The Crystal Community Center may have been purchased for the small fee of $1, but today township leaders are now looking at the potential of a rather large bill to keep it from crumbling in on itself.

During Wednesday evening’s Crystal Township Board meeting, the board discussed a request from one of the tenants of the building, Sanchin-Ryu Karate of Lansing, to adjust the rental fee structure, at least temporarily, to be more affordable.

Sanchin-Ryu requested that rather than be charged a standard weekly rental fee, they be charged a percentage based on the number of participants at each session.

Board members voted unanimously to charge Sanchin-Ryu $50 per month, as opposed to the current rate of $25 per weekly session, for their current registration season through March to ease the financial burden.

But the conversation that came from that decision led board members into an additional discussion about the status of the community center itself.

According to Township Clerk Patty Baker-Marek, the building, which was previously an elementary school purchased from Carson City-Crystal Area Schools in 2010 for $1, currently houses the township offices and numerous other community activities, but is in need of repairs in nearly every corner of the building.

Baker-Marek said a number of tenants, such as community members who use the open gym nights for free, and other organizations that currently operate on a donation basis, may need to be charged set fees to assist in building revenue for future expenses.

“I think it’s great we try to be here to allow people to use it for free — the seniors, the Downtown Development Authority, community things — it’s a good thing to do as a community, but then I look at the expense of the building,” she said. “ We’ve got all these astronomical expenses that need to happen.”

According to Baker-Marek, as much as $300,000 is needed to make necessary repairs to the boiler and the roof of the building.

“Ten dollars isn’t going to help us put a new roof on, but it might be a start,” she said. “If we had started this when (we first received the building) we might have a couple thousand bucks to put towards it. I don’t think we can just continue (the way things are) without any additional funding. I think we’ve got to do something.”

The conversation was revisited again during public comment. Pat McShosh of Crystal, who has previously criticized the board for not bringing additional businesses to the community center as a source of revenue, pointed to the upcoming move of the Crystal Community Library to the community center as an example of potential funding that the township is missing out on.

Under the current potential agreement, when the library moves to the community center this summer, it will continue to operate as it does now, rent-free.

McShosh suggested the board pursue township condo association fees, pointing to the fact that a large number of residents of the township — or as she described, a “resort community” — live in warmer southern states during the winter months, and only live in the township in the spring and summer in their lakeside cottages.

“Regardless of what you do on the top of a $10 a person, or $10 an hour rental fee, that (condo fee) would be a flat rate so that everybody is treated equally on a regular basis,” she said.

Others in the audience were more critical of treating the community center as a business and focusing on rental fees or bringing in new tenants.

David Wight of Crystal, reading from the township’s most recent audit report, said the community center does not operate at a deficit and thus doesn’t necessary need to focus on a new fee structure or new tenants as a source of income.

“You’re actually gaining monies, not spending, on this building. You’re not losing money on this building,” he said. “You wouldn’t really want to run this as a business. If you did, why would the township own it?”

Township Treasurer Ted Padgett confirmed to The Daily News that in looking at current revenues and expenses on the building, it does operate in good standing.

He said two of the building’s tenants, Carson City-Crystal Area Schools Alternative Education and the EightCAP Inc. Head Start program, combine for more than $32,000 in annual rental fees as revenue for the township. On the expense side, which include heat and general utilities, Padgett said those costs come to approximately $25,000 each year.

David Wight’s wife, Elizabeth, read off a list that featured more than 21 uses of the community center, ranging from the township offices to high school reunions and baby showers to operating as a potential gathering place for any potential local disasters.

“The message is, it’s a well-used community facility supported by tax dollars,” she said. “It is a very useful building to this community.”

Baker-Marek, who could recall her own family members attending school at the building, said she didn’t disagree about the importance of the building, but she wanted to bring the reality of needed finances to the surface of discussion.

“I think it’s a wonderful building, but I think we just have to figure out how we’re going to fix it,” she said. “Where are we going to come up with $300,000 for a boiler, for a roof? Even then, you still have walls that are caving in on the end of the building. That’s another huge expense. We’ve got one sink in the bathroom that works, and the bathrooms are not handicapped accessible. I think it’s a wonderful building, but somehow we have to decide where our monies are best spent. In my opinion, you’re talking half a million dollars to make this a nice building, and where does that come from?”

Elizabeth Wight suggested potential funding might have to come from the community, and Baker-Marek said she had similar sentiments.

“Maybe the general Crystal Township population should be given the opportunity to say yes or no,” Elizabeth Wight said.

“That’s what I thought, to have a public forum meeting, to talk to people, and hear what people want,” Baker-Marek added.

Dick Walthorn of Crystal said without the community center, the community would eventually see itself shrink in size.

“In most communities, the school is the center of the community, that’s what holds it together … of course we lost the school out of this community, but the community center still somewhat acts that way,” he said.

Walthorn pointed to smaller neighboring locations such as Butternut and Vickeryville as examples of communities that failed to grow over time.

“They are all dying because there is no center of focus,” he said.

Walthorn added that a township millage may be the answer, as opposed to tearing the building down or building a new township hall.

“Every time you’ve put a millage out for vote, whether it’s police or fire, we haven’t had a millage turned down that I can recall in many years,” he said. “So instead of talking about tearing it down, lets look at what it would take (to save it).”

Township Supervisor Chris Johnston said he would like to explore assembling a building committee, that could begin the initial stages of pursuing the potential financing of repairing the building.

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