By Jesse Wood
Sept. 19, 2013. The Blowing Rock Town Council is moving forward with a nearly $300,000 renovation to the American Legion building after voting 4-1 to seek bids on the project at a special meeting on Tuesday afternoon. The lone nay vote came from Councilman Dan Phillips, who essentially called the procession of the project shortsighted in light of other infrastructure needs that he deemed more of a priority during an interview on Thursday.
In August 2011, the Blowing Rock Town Council took over the American Legion building, which is located at 256 Wallingford Street, after a half-year of ongoing discussions regarding the future maintenance and operation of the building that became too much to bear for American Legion Post #256. Before the town took over the building, town engineer Doug Chapman told the Blowing Rock Town Council that the building didn’t have any major structural problems; however, it was in need of some minor repairs, according to meeting minutes.
After taking over the building, the Town of Blowing Rock applied for, acquired and accepted a $142,500 matching N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund grant in 2012 to help fund the renovations. Fast forward one year, the council met a month ago to discuss the American Legion building but tabled action on the matter to deal with other priorities – one being the hiring of a new town manager, which happened last week.
At that meeting in August 2012, a couple people – Kent Tarbutton and Steve Irace – spoke during public comment and said that the town didn’t need another public meeting area, citing the Blowing Rock Art & History Museum among other spaces.
While Phillips agreed with this assessment, it wasn’t his main concern.
“My concerns are it’s not a priority right now,” Phillips said, adding that the town has $40 to $61 million worth of long-term infrastructure needs, mainly consisting of water and sewer items, that need to be addressed. See document below.
“I am one out of five people [on the council] … With the fact that an election is coming up, people are afraid to look at these kinds of things and continue to kick these maintenance items down the road and they keep mounting up in costs. That concerns me and is one of the big reasons I am running for mayor to try to get these items on the forefront of people’s minds,” Phillips said.
After mentioning the dire straits of some of the utilities, Phillips mentioned that $142,500 match of Blowing Rock funds could be used to fund the changing of connections to 400 homes. Phillips also said that the American Legion building isn’t utilized enough to warrant $300,000 in renovations.
Councilman Tommy Klutz, who is up for re-election come November, agreed that the use of the building was “not that much” before the Town of Blowing Rock took it over, but he said with the building “going through parks and recs to book venues, it should be used more than ever used in the past.”
In 2011, the town also agreed to allow American Legion Post #256 to continue using the building for its regular meetings and functions and to allow other long-term users such as the Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Historical Society and other non-denominational organizations to continue using the facility. Klutz added the town could use the extra bathrooms included in the renovations and also said that people who can’t afford to rent spaces at other high-end places for weddings, picnics and other functions could use the building, too.
Klutz added that the move to renovate the American Legion building is a smart move considering the government is covering half of the costs through the grant.
“The matching grant from the government is the reason we’re going for that figure [nearly $300,000],” Klutz said. “There are better uses for any pile of money you can come up with if you look at like that, but you can’t get matching grants for all of it. If someone wants to give you a matching grant and the government sees fit to do that, I don’t see any reason not to try to take it. It does benefit all.”
For Klutz, there is also a personal connection to the building.
“My father’s best friends of World War II helped build that building along with my father,” Klutz said. “I am glad to see it continue.”
Below is an email from new Town Manager Scott Fogleman that Phillips referenced above.
The attached one page document from [town engineer] Doug Chapman was received on September 11, 2013.
It is entitled “Blowing Rock Infrastructure Needs”. There are a number related assumptions that were necessary to provide this list, and they are noted at the bottom of the document. While much more work needs to be done related to our complete infrastructure needs assessment, this is a great start so we can begin to prioritize them and to examine a variety of funding alternatives.
I have already set up a meeting with Doug Chapman for this Wednesday to get introduced and talk about a wide variety of topics, including a review of this document and to begin laying out our approach.
I am not asking that you do anything with the information at this stage, but did want you to be aware of its existence and that we will be working to incorporate it into our financial plan development, including our ten year CIP.