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Rec center plan faces criticism in Doylestown Township


Doylestown Township’s ambitious plan for a Community Recreation Center and Park Improvement Project has come under scrutiny, as supervisors prepare for a special meeting Tuesday Oct. 3, to review more detailed bids and hear a consultant’s recommendations.

With an initial estimated $10 million price tag, the nearly 18,000-square-foot facility is designed for a number of purposes, including a recreation area with space for classes, athletic activities, meetings and more.

An 84-foot-by-50-foot gym that can accommodate basketball, pickleball or volleyball is a key feature of the project, as are new outdoor sports courts and permanent restrooms near the township’s popular Kids Castle playground and amphitheater in Central Park.

In a recent Facebook post, township resident and member of the board’s finance committee, Jason Showmaker, called attention to the project, saying it will result in tax hikes, as the cost of it increases.

After reviewing the price of the facility, Showmaker said, in his post, “I just cannot understand how our elected officials could be supportive of the new Community Recreation Center project in its current form.”

According to Showmaker’s estimates, the cost of the center and park improvements will reach $13.9 million. Citing a lack of details in the bids opened on Sept. 18, Showmaker said, the cost “will most likely exceed” that figure.

“I understand the size and scope of the project has changed, but where do we draw the line?” asked Showmaker, on Facebook. A petition to “put the project on hold” had garnered 262 signatures as of Tuesday.

Barbara Lyons, who chairs the board of supervisors, said she agreed to meet with Showmaker on Wednesday “in good faith” to discuss the project. The township manager, as well as other professionals familiar with the project, are slated to attend the meeting, said Lyons.

The chairwoman called Showmaker’s $13.9 million estimated price “inaccurate.” She said he lacks a “precise understanding of the scope of the project and its cost.”

Lyons emphasized that Showmaker and any resident has a right to ask questions and express their thoughts about the center and any township matter.

In a letter to this news organization, Doylestown Township Supervisor Dan Wood said the community recreation and park improvement plan is a worthwhile investment for the community.

“Despite some characterizations, this project isn’t just constructing a building. It’s more than that. It’s renovating our courts for decades of future games of tennis, basketball, pickleball and whatever new sports might be invented. It’s putting bathrooms by Kids Castle for parents racing against the clock to avoid unfortunate accidents.”

Wood said, “I’m not dismissing the cost of the project and its impact on taxpayers. I’m proud of my record voting to keep costs down,” noting that he opposed including a gym and a fourth tennis court.

The center and park improvements, the supervisor stressed, is as valuable an investment as buying the 155 acres the township purchased in 1991 for $7.1 million to create Central Park.

Supervisor Nancy Santacecilia said in an email, “The project scope has changed and the cost is almost 4x(sic) what we were originally presented when the feasibility study was done in 2020. With this new estimate of $14 million, it is equivalent to 87% of our $16 million operating budget. With approximately 25% of our constituents age 65 or older, this tax increase will not afford many to age in place.”

Santacecilia noted, “At this time, it would be fiscally responsible to install the new bathrooms and electrical upgrades needed for security at the Band shell and Kids Castle as well as repave of the current courts.”

However, she added, “Spending $14m dollars at this time or creating a large net footprint in beautiful Central Park needs more input and greater scrutiny. I suggest every resident review the recorded meetings and review the minutes to judge for themselves” and attend the Tuesday meeting.

Supervisors Ryan Manion and Jennifer Herring did not respond to a request for comment.

Stephanie Mason, the township’s manager, said the 4:30 p.m. meeting will provide officials and the public with an opportunity to review the bids. The meeting will be live streamed. No bids have been awarded, she noted.