Bayside, Severance rise to top of community center sites

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By JASON STARR

If Colchester voters decide to invest in a new community center, it will be built at either Bayside Park or Severance Corners, the selectboard decided in a split vote last Tuesday.

The board voted 3-1 to direct a consulting firm to develop site plans and pricing for both locations. It also voted to integrate 14 acres of town-owned property off East Lakeshore Drive into a master plan for Bayside Park.

The consultant, GreenPlay of Colorado, recommended Severance Corners as the best location. It factored in the area’s greater traffic capacity compared to Bayside Park, and the site’s sewer service, as opposed to Bayside’s on-site septic.

The state also requires Severance Corners have a civic building onsite to retain its “growth center” designation.

“They felt that area could use something to stimulate additional development and interest,” town manager Dawn Francis said.

Logic may point to Severance Corners, but the obvious choice for a community center is Bayside Park, board member Herb Downing said.

“Yes, [Severance Corners] has infrastructure, but it’s not where people want to be,” he said. “People want to be at Bayside Park. They want to look out and see the bay and see that beautiful view. I’m 100 percent behind the Bayside parcel.”

Board member Tom Mulcahy couldn’t decide until seeing site plans and cost estimates. Board member Marc Landry, the lone dissenting vote, was unwilling to support any of the proposed sites and would oppose the Severance Corners site unless landowner S.D. Ireland agrees to grant land for the building.

“Not much is happening there, and I don’t think it’s the town of Colchester’s responsibility to jumpstart Ireland’s development,” Landry said.

Early cost estimates peg a community center as a $10-15 million project. Parks and recreation director Glen Cuttitta said the center would be roughly 35,000 square feet and include fitness studios, a weight room, a walk/run track, gymnasium, kitchen, kids play structures and multi-purpose rooms. An aquatic center is also a possibility but would increase costs.

Francis said a community center has been in demand for a long time.

“If we don’t document the need, understand the cost, outline a vision of what would be involved and capture the imagination of some community members to assist in fundraising, it probably will never happen,” she said. “We are at least laying a foundation for something like this to occur.”

The 14 town-owned acres fronting East Lakeshore Drive, known as the Bayside-Hazelett property, was purchased with voter approval in 2006, when it was considered a prime site for a future community center. The selectboard decided last Tuesday the site would be more appropriately integrated into Bayside Park, especially if a community center at Bayside displaces some of the park’s existing amenities.

Landry said the Bayside-Hazelett property is unfit for a community center because it is cut off from the Malletts Bay shoreline by East Lakeshore Drive.