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Panel debates options on community center

A study panel that has recommended Pembroke build a new community center may propose the town partner with the Old Colony YMCA or some other organization to build and run the facility.

The Community Center Study Committee is scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether to recommend the partnership arrangement, said Ralph Perrotto, chairman of the group’s administration and finance subcommittee.

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Perrotto, whose subcommittee voted March 25 to propose the idea to the full committee, said a partner organization could help the town pay for the cost of the project and then serve as operator of the future facility.

“With a partner, we feel we can offer significantly better and more services,” he said, adding the town could do so at a lower cost.

On Feb. 6, the study committee voted 14-0, with one abstention, to recommend construction of a new center, one of three options it explored for addressing the pressing facility needs of the town’s existing community center, located at the town green. The others were renovating the center; or renovating its original 1934 section, demolishing a 1949 addition, and building a new addition.

The Old Colony YMCA, which has been providing the town with pro bono assistance in planning a future center, has expressed interest in partnering in the project, Perretto said. While the town would probably need to seek bids from prospective partners, he said the Y is “a very strong player in what they can bring to the table.”

The Old Colony YMCA currently serves the Southeastern Massachusetts region with 11 branches, more than 40 child-care sites, and a variety of social service programs. In Pembroke, it operates before- and after-school care programs at the town’s three elementary schools.

Perretto said that even if the facility were to be operated by a private partner, it would remain a town-owned center and that the operator would need to work closely on programming with Pembroke departments.

Greg Hanley, chairman of the Board of Selectmen and of the study committee, said he is open to the idea of Pembroke partnering with a private organization since it could potentially enable the town to build a community center without a debt exclusion, or temporary tax increase.

“Our whole thing from day one is how can we build this project with the least amount of taxpayer impact,” he said.

Vincent J. Marturano, president and CEO of the Old Colony Y, said his organization would be interested in potentially partnering with Pembroke.

“We have had a wonderful opportunity to learn a lot more about the community and what they are striving to do,” he said. “It’s nice when you see the passion of people in a community coming out and giving their time and effort to doing something.

“Our hope would be if that is the direction they would want to go, we would enter into a discussion of what terms and structures would be good for both parties,’’ he added.

The study committee was formed by selectmen in April 2012 to evaluate the existing community center’s future. The move came at a time of lively debate in town over whether the building should be renovated or demolished and replaced with a new center.

Cost was a key factor in the overall 27-member committee’s decision to propose a new building, which the panel made on the recommendation of its building and design subcommittee.

The study committee estimated building a new center would cost $6.95 million, compared with $7.39 million for the renovation and addition option, and $7.83 million for the renovation option.

“I went into it open-minded,” said Tony Marino, the subcommittee chairman. “My bottom line was, let’s crunch the numbers and see where it takes us. Then at the end we looked at the three options, priced them, and came up with the least expensive alternative.”

But committee member Brian VanRiper, who was absent when the vote was taken, continues to favor preserving the building.

“There are a lot of buildings throughout the United States, from skyscrapers to residences, that have been meticulously preserved and brought back and restored,” he said, questioning why that could not be done with the community center.

“If the Y or some other quality partner comes to the table with a plan, I would be willing to look at it,” VanRiper said of a new building.

The study committee is still developing its recommendations on the use of the future community center, as well as a financing plan. When complete, all of its proposals will be presented to selectmen with the goal of putting a funding request for a project before Town Meeting this fall.

The center currently houses the Recreation Department and the Commission on Disabilities, along with the Pembroke Food Pantry and a private child-care center. It is also used by various town youth athletic organizations.

In exploring uses of the future center, the study committee has collected extensive feedback from residents. Suggestions include that the center serve as the new home of the Council on Aging and that it house a teen center, recreational programs, and fitness, aquatics, and gymnastics facilities.

Also discussed is having the center serve as an emergency relief shelter, and that it continue to house the food pantry, a child-care center, and the Recreation Department and Commission on Disabilities.

Perrotto said a key objective of the committee is to produce an intergenerational facility, which he said would help realize a goal of the town’s master plan to create “a vibrant, attractive, and convenient town center that serves the needs of all town residents.”

John Laidler can be reached at laidler@globe.com.
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