EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

June 26, 2013

Atkinson hopes to repair community center

By Alex Lippa

---- — ATKINSON — Plans for a new community center have been put on hold — for now.

Instead, town officials are trying to repair the building and have it fully open for use by the end of the year.

Selectmen will ask the Department of Revenue Administration for permission to spend around $90,000 over their budget for needed repairs. The money will come from the town’s undesignated fund balance, which has a balance of $800,000.

Town Administrator Bill Innes said selectmen decided to go this route after determining there would not be enough time or money to vote on a new community center at Town Meeting next March.

“It’s going to be a four- or five-year process,” Innes said. “The community needs the building and, in an emergency such as this one, we are able to spend above what we’ve appropriated.”

The money would cover fixing the floor in the function room, as well as a new heating system. Innes said the heating system would be able to be moved to a new building if it is built.

If all goes according to plan, the building could be open for use in two to three months.

The function room at the community center was closed abruptly in April after an engineer deemed the building to be structurally unsafe. Since then, recreation director Noriko Yoshida-Travers has had to relocate activities.

“It would be awesome if we could get it fixed,” she said. “That was my request to begin with. I’m glad they reached this decision and I hope we can get this money approved by the state.”

The request to the DRA has to be signed off by selectmen and Budget Committee members.

“We want a way to make the building operational,” Selectmen’s Chairman Todd Barbera said. “There are budgetary concerns right now in hiring an architect to design the new building.”

Budget Committee member Bill Smith said the proposal will not be brought to his committee until their next meeting, next month.

“It’s premature for me to talk about it,” Smith said. “I don’t know enough about it.”

The DRA will only approve the plan if it doesn’t impact sources of revenue or the town’s tax rate. The town also must be able to find money from their own resources to pay for the overspending.

Innes said he has met with selectmen over the last few weeks to determine which of the repairs they would be able to tackle this summer. The town has estimated the cost at $160,000.

Innes said the town had an option to provide a temporary repair to the floor, but chose a more permanent fix to ensure the floor would last until a new center is built.