Indian Hills center to go to ballot

INDIAN HILLS - Residents who want a community center in Indian Hills will get a chance to vote in November, despite a decision by leaders of the northern Douglas County community to shelve the center in favor of an office complex.

At issue is a plan to build an office in the Sunridge area, something 71 percent of surveyed residents had said they did not want if it meant abandoning the district's initial plan for a community center/office complex at James Lee Park.

More than 40 people attending a recent Indian Hills General Improvement District board meeting said the survey results spoke for what people of the neighborhood and general improvement district wanted.

Those attending the meeting said an earlier 3-2 vote to table the center and instead concentrate on an offer from Sunridge developer Bill Wellman to participate in an office complex project across Highway 395, was, in effect, a rejection of the survey.

"We already voted on it and voiced our opinion and we should go with it," said resident Kary Grabow. "The people spoke and I think we should go with it,"

A community center with office space has been in the planning stage for more than two years. Already invested was $56,000, used for architects, engineers and more. Cost estimates for the 10,346-square-foot building near James Lee Park had totaled more than $1.4 million. District leaders had sought backing for a community development block grant for $395,000 from county commissioners, but that request was withdrawn.

Board members Steve Weaver and Ron Kruse had voted in favor of the community center, while Joanne Riekenberg, Dick Fairfax and Renee Haskell voted against.

Out of 1,137 surveys, 198, or 17.4 percent, were returned. Haskell and Riekenberg said they believe the 17 percent return was not a valid sampling of Indian Hills residents.

"It just wasn't enough to warrant spending $1.4 million," Riekenberg said.

Fairfax said the cost of the center was not necessarily the main reason for his no vote, but he was concerned that staffing and salaries would cost more than anyone anticipated.

"We need an office really bad," he said, pointing out that the current space was insufficient to accommodate the three dozen-plus residents who attended that meeting.

After heated discussion, the board voted to have the question of the community center and the Sunridge office building put on the November ballot.

Haskell said if all residents of Douglas County would be able to use the facility, they should share in the cost. For that reason, she voted against putting it on the ballot with just a regional instead of a countywide vote.

Residents questioned why the board was even discussing putting the question on the ballot when a vote had already been taken.

"If as you say we don't have the money to do it anyway, why put it on the ballot?" asked resident George Bishop.

"Why did you go forward, spending the money with the intention of building, and then you come up and vote against it?" asked resident Betty Sellway. "Now the money is down the drain. Why should we pay for another vote on the ballot? We voted."

Haskell said board members did not initially anticipate the high cost for a community center/office complex.

"We were dumfounded," she said of learning the experts' reports and cost estimates.


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