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Bristol puts new recreation center plan on hold

BRISTOL — After months of discussion, the Bristol Recreation Community Steering Committee has voted down a plan to develop a new recreation center on the property at 76 West St., in spite of its desirable location and gateway visibility.
The steering committee was formed in September after the town of Bristol on Aug. 20 signed an agreement (contingent upon voter approval) to purchase the 0.59-acre parcel for $166,500, with an eye toward replacing the existing house with facilities that would consolidate the Recreation Department in one location.
The parcel, which is adjacent to property owned by the Bristol Recreation Club, sits 500 feet east of Airport Drive.
After hiring Chris Huston of Bellwether Architects to provide conceptual designs for the project, the steering committee identified four significant downsides to the property, according to its Nov. 9 letter to Bristol Town Administrator Valerie Capels:
•  The parcel’s small size (a little more than half an acre) would limit the growth of the physical space of Rec. Department programs.
•  Current zoning will not accommodate parking, utilities and some uses of outdoor space.
•  Purchasing the property for town use would remove it from Bristol’s tax rolls.
•  Bristol already owns two parcels whose larger size might better accommodate future growth.
The purchase is still on the table, however, in spite of the steering committee’s findings. At its Dec. 3 meeting the Bristol selectboard delayed taking action on the Aug. 20 purchase agreement until a future date, citing alternative options for the property, which include:
•  Orchestrating a land swap with the Bristol Recreation Club.
•  Purchasing 76 West St. now, then reselling it later, if workable plans fail to materialize
The selectboard had hoped to earn voter approval for the purchase on Town Meeting Day next March but acknowledged this past Monday night that developing and publicizing an entirely new plan before then would pose significant challenges.
Operations for the Bristol Recreation Department are fragmented among the Hub Teen Center, Holley Hall and the Bristol Clay Studio. Of particular concern to the department (and the Bristol Rec. Club) is the Hub building, which is rapidly approaching the end of its life span.
At $166,500, the purchase price of 76 West St. is roughly equivalent — at today’s rates — to 10 years of rent the Rec. Department would pay to maintain its current programming, according to steering committee estimates.
The property was inspected Dec. 4, but the town has not yet received the report.
While the selectboard weighs its options, the steering committee will continue to meet and explore options for a new community center, Capels said.
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected].

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