Club aims to build multi-million-dollar center in Bristol

BRISTOL — The Bristol Recreation Club is working on ambitiousplans for a community center that would host everything from a daycare facilityto a senior center, and for those in between, space for athletics, an Internetcafé, small businesses and more.
The Deerleap Community Center (DCC) would be built on andaround site of the skating rink in the Bristol Recreation Field, but officialsinvolved in drawing up plans for the facility said that no current uses of therecreation field would be lost. Instead, the DCC would include an indoorskating rink and gymnasium. 
“Nothing is being done away with,” said Linda Stearns, manageof the DCC Council.
The council was formed in late 2006 to explore the possibilityof a multi-use community center. Stearns said that planning and research willprobably continue for more than three years before the council is ready tobreak ground on construction. At the moment, the council has hired an engineerfor a site study to see what kind of limitations are created by runoffrequirements, septic capacity and other factors of the recreation field itself.
Stearns made a rough estimate that the DCC would cost $10million to build, but it’s far too early to say anything specific; the councildoesn’t even have a definite plan for the layout of the center yet, though theyhave concept designs prepared by Gregor Mansfield of Studio III in Bristol.
The complicated ownership of the recreation field itself maybe another hurdle. The Bristol Recreation Club, a private, nonprofit entity,owns most of the field. But as a condition of the federal funding to build theskating rink and tennis courts, the town of Bristol owns the land the skatingrink and tennis courts are on. Stearns said the council is still researchingthat issue.
Despite the ownership of the field and several othercomplications, Stearns was optimistic that the DCC could eventually be built.
“There’s a really good chance of success on this project,”she said.
Stearns, the former executive director of the Addison CountyChamber of Commerce, said that the planning process has been funded by grantsand donations so far, and the council doesn’t plan to seek funding from thetown of Bristol itself. “The whole key to the project is that it would not costtaxpayers any additional funds,” Stearns said.
With the community center itself as currently envisionedbeing larger than anything similar in the county, those involved in planning itsay that day-to-day operation of the center would be as big a challenge asconstruction.
“Building the thing isn’t the hard part, I think sustainingit is,” said Skimmer Hellier, a Bristol resident and “de facto chairman” of thestill-pretty-informal committee.
The council is seeking grants and donations and using otherfund-raising efforts to plan and build the center, but Stearns said that inresearching community centers in other towns, she found that funds formaintenance, repairs and daily operations are harder to come by.
“A lot of community centers fail because they don’t build insustainability,” Stearns said.
To address that, the DCC council plans to include rentalspace. The Bristol Recreation Club’s bylaws require the club to focus on healthand wellness efforts, so the DCC would seek tenants like physical therapists,fitness centers and other businesses. “We’re trying to mix a lot of the profitand not-for-profit (projects),” Hellier said.
Stearns couldn’t say exactly how much of the DCC would be rentalor for-profit and how much would be nonprofit efforts, partly because a lot ofthe space would be dual-use. The sports facilities, for example, may be used bya future fitness center as well as the DCC itself and the nearby Mount AbrahamUnion High School.
With just one gymnasium at Mount Abe serving 10 basketballteams and multiple gym classes, Stearns said the school administration wasinterested in the project. That partnership could be a two-way street: underthe current plans, the DCC would share Mount Abe’s parking space or take overpart of it.
However, Stearns emphasized that the planning process isstill in the early stages and plans remain flexible. “Before we get into theactual design, we want to make sure we have a clear picture of exactly what isneeded … so we could meet those needs,” she said.
According to Hellier, this project would be rare if notunique “in that it’s trying to support all these services,” he said. “Wehaven’t really seen it anywhere in this country.”
Even with an unusual plan to support the DCC, it would stillbe a massive undertaking. Stearns acknowledged that, but she said that so earlyin the planning process, members of the committee didn’t want to limitthemselves to what seemed realistic.
“Maybe it will never be as big or as grand as we would likeit to be, but … if you don’t dream big, you never get to where you want to,”she said.

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