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Key issues for community center committee

The effort by Birmingham officials to deal with the creation of a community center and a permanent home for the non-profit Next organization which provides a meeting place and activities for the over 50-years-of-age set in the city and a few neighboring communities is at a crucial point in the process.

Next was created in 1978 to serve the older set of residents in the city, along with Bingham Farms, Beverly Hills and Franklin. The special segment of the population now accounts for at least half of the residents in these communities.

Today, Next is situated in space at a vacant Birmingham Schools District building, which for a variety of reasons does not meet current and long-term needs of the organization.

To address the needs of Next and a population that increasingly wants to age in place in the city, Birmingham officials in July of 2023 purchased the YMCA building at 400 East Lincoln.

In November of 2023, Birmingham voters were asked to approve a .33-mill levy for three years that would generate just over $1 million annually. Funds from the millage would be used to pay off the purchase agreement and begin the process of developing a community center that will become the permanent home for Next. After voters gave their blessing, the city issued a request for proposal (RFP) developed by a management team within city hall.

The management team reviewed responses to the RFP and in February of this year, and the city commission chose the Noor architectural and engineering firm from Detroit to begin phase one to conduct community surveys, field investigations and develop a feasibility study of the YMCA building. In phase two, expected to wrap up at the end of this June, Noor will provide a community presentation and concept designs.

The city commission in recent weeks was presented with three options for managing the community center process and chose to go with an ad hoc committee, serving three-year terms, comprising members from the city commission, planning board, parks and recreation board, Next, YMCA and development professionals. Among the ad hoc committee assignments would be at some point to involve an owner’s representative (OR) to help manage the project.

It is this last item – involving an OR at some point – that concerns us most.

Several members of the community – former city commissioners George Dilgard and Gordon Rinschler, along with planning board member and architect Bert Kosek – have urged the city to retain an OR on the short term rather than waiting closer to the final design and construction phase of the project.

We support the idea of bringing on now an OR. This is a major project that must meet the needs not just of today but future generations and there is mountain of issues that need to be addressed from the start.

Further, a legitimate issue has been raised as to whether city officials should also be assessing the cost of rehabbing an existing building for the community center and home of Next against the cost of removing the current building and erecting a new structure that more exactly meets the needs of the community now and down the road.

We share the concern of what some have termed “mission creep” as it applies to this project but a complete and thorough analysis must include assessing all options on an important community center.

The ad hoc committee, which has a laundry list of important issues to tackle, was scheduled to begin meeting as this edition was going to press. We can only hope that the OR issue and the comparative cost analysis are given consideration early on as the committee begins work.


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