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Commissioners put Next building report on hold

By Grace Lovins

Future plans for the future Birmingham senior and community center was the hot topic of the Monday, May 20, city commission meeting during which commissioners reviewed the community survey and feasibility study created by the Norr firm.

Norr was selected by the city commission back in February to perform a building assessment and conceptual designs for the renovation or expansion of the former YMCA building, located at 400 E. Lincoln, which was purchased by the city almost a year ago as a new home for Next Birmingham.

Brian Colburn and Claudia Padilla of Norr presented the findings of the feasibility study and community survey to the commission during the commission meeting. According to the two, their findings show that respondents from the community said they are generally looking for a more modernized and accessible building, an open gathering space for the community and enough space to support the activities that the YMCA and Next offer.

In terms of the building itself, Padilla explained to the commission that the report, using information provided from both the YMCA and Next about the amount of space they would like for the building, said that the current facility would need to be expanded by roughly 11,000 square feet to accommodate what Next and YMCA would like to offer. Next and YMCA officials have met and reduced some of the space requirements by viewing program consolidation and space sharing, city officials were told.

Several commissioners commented on the report saying that they were concerned about the lack of direction provided in the report. Many said there was no indication on whether the building should be renovated or torn down for a completely new build, and there was no cost analysis of any options.

City manager Jana Ecker told commissioners before hearing the report that the commission had a lot of decisions to make in terms of the scope of the project, including the budget and funding for the facility, be it a renovation or new build, and the size of the building, among other items.

“I don’t think we have the tools or information to provide the answers that [Ecker is] looking for,” said commissioner Therese Longe.

Commissioners went back and forth stating the items that needed to be ironed out before feeling comfortable with accepting the report and moving forward in the process. Mayor Elaine McLain and other commissioners alluded to the fact that having an owner’s representative to help with the process, which was also on the agenda after the report presentation, would help the commission solidify these decisions.

Ultimately, the commission did not move forward with accepting the feasibility study created by Norr, citing all of the questions they said had been left unanswered and the fact that they were not prepared to accept the report’s findings. Commissioners suggested that the reprot should be the topic of a future meeting.


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