The idea for a community center in Marion County has been around for a long time. Through the years, many civic groups and service organizations in Marion County have discussed the need for a community center. In 2003, a health assessment phone survey conducted by the University of Arkansas, Little Rock, and sponsored by Marion County Home Town Health, Inc. lead to the establishment of Healthy Arkansas committees for children, workplace, and aging Arkansans. In 2006, these committees voted to pursue a community center.
The Marion County Community Center will offer: an indoor swimming pool, exercise area, multi-purpose gym, indoor walking track, racquetball court, auditorium/banquet hall complete with full- sized stage, meeting rooms, a catering kitchen, and specialized areas for community crafts, children and youth. The community center will also be equipped to serve as an emergency and storm shelter.
Since the release of the survey cards to all Marion County residences, we have received numerous phone calls and e-mails from people requesting more information or clarification of the project before they vote on the survey question. We decided to share some of these questions and our responses. All of the questions are excellent and thoughtful. Some are rather far reaching in the future and difficult to answer accurately. We’ll do our very best.
A: This is a general purpose community center designed for all age groups. The floor plan is not final. Our architects, Stuck Associates, Jonesboro have to date donated their time and efforts developing several versions of the floor plan before we decided this one was close enough to share with the public. We will get more input on the floor plan from Marion County residents when the time is appropriate. A number of local businesses have worked with us to develop this project. We are grateful to report that the majority of this talent resides right here in Marion County. If we had to use resources outside of Marion County, we have kept to Arkansas. Stuck Associates work with Baxter Regional Medical Center and their various building additions and they designed the Hospice of the Ozarks Hospice House.
A: On the floor plan, it is the dotted line over the Basketball/Volleyball/Multipurpose room.
A: Yes, there will be a fee associated with usage of some of the building's assets. Based on current financial projections, we plan no entry fee to the building. It will be an open community building. If you just want to sit in the lobby and read or visit, stroll through the building, or spend time on the indoor walking track, there will be no charges. Now, the real issue is the pool and the other more high maintenance areas of the building. We have crunched the numbers and see no way to make the pool free. It is such an incredible expense that we will have no choice but to charge a reasonable fee. This will also apply in some fashion to the basketball/volleyball and racquetball courts. If you are holding a birthday party, wedding reception, family reunion, class, meeting, etc., there will be a rental fee for the room, mainly to cover utilities and clean-up. If you are a student attending a class, enjoying free movie night, or your children are taking swimming lessons, your fees will be covered by the sponsor/program/grant. Family and individual memberships will be offered but NOT required. We want to emphasize that the greatest effort will be made to keep all fees minimal and affordable.
A: We absolutely want the conference room and all the meeting/classrooms to be utilized by any businesses/organizations for meetings, special events, public promotions, etc. We are anticipating the large basketball/multipurpose room to be used for car shows, crafts, home & garden shows, hunting/fishing events, and how about a local festival to show off the great boats we make right here in Marion County?
A: So we don’t totally put you to sleep, you can read about our history on the website, www.MarionCountyCommunityServices.org to see how this has evolved over the last 13 years. However, the Arkansas Department of Health and their initiative, Marion County Home Town Health, should get the credit for forming the roots of this project. The initial survey for the community center itself was in 2007. We had a great response from the county and proceeded to develop a project plan just in time for the economic trials of 2008 & 2009. This created some far reaching changes in our economy and our organization. We had to regroup and approach the project differently. Most of the large “bricks and mortar” building grants are gone. This brings us to the possible ½ cent sales tax. We can get a low interest 30 year loan for the center, but we must have a stable economic base…a steady income. As discouraging as the 2008/2009 recession was to our project, we also learned some very important lessons. While we were researching community centers during that time, we discovered centers that were having financial difficulties and we made note of what we needed to do differently in Marion County to insure the facility’s long term survival.
MCCS, Inc. is a non-profit, charitable organization with a mission statement that basically says our whole reason for existing is to help the people of Marion County. There is no big corporation behind us looking for their profits. All board members are volunteers and tax paying Marion County residents. Our by-laws mandate representation from around the county. We are part of Marion County and we have no one to please but ourselves. So, if we get a financial boon from a donor, or a grant, or a sponsor, it will be passed on directly to the people of Marion County. Example: we get a Federal grant for water aerobics for people over age 50, so they get in free. One of our local businesses wants to sponsor a free movie night, so we get in free, and they get a booth in the lobby to share information on their product/services. After school programs and a multitude of other possibilities exist through small grants.
A: Yes. How much is unknown at this time. We want to reemphasize that any fees will be as reasonable as we can make them and will be comparable to other community centers in our region. The sales tax will provide the financial base for the center so we anticipate any fees associated with the building and its services to be minimal. Many of the questions we have received relate to fees and charges. There are so many variables with the community center project that it is difficult to quote actual figures at this time. We don’t want to make promises we can’t keep. Through the years we have visited with the gracious and helpful folks at the Berryville Community Center. May we recommend that you take a few moments to check out Berryville’s website and it may give you some ideas about how they structure and charge for their programs.
A: There is no ½ cent sales tax for the community center at this time nor do we anticipate this anytime soon. MCCS, Inc. is just surveying the county’s interest in the project including potential public support. If there is support for a community center as there was in 2007, the next step is to raise funds to purchase the land, then finalize the building plans, and seek donors. There is a lot of work to do first.
A: No, it’s not. The projected ½ cent sales tax will cover the building loan, utilities, insurance, and maybe the staffing/salaries. MCCS, Inc. will have to generate additional income in various ways including fundraising events.
A: Yes, to all of the above. Excellent question. Originally, in about 2010, our proposal to the then county judge was a 1 cent sales tax for 5 years to pay off the building loan, then drop to ½ cent sales tax for maintenance of the facility. However, Marion County has many needs. In the spirit of cooperation and collaboration, we crunched our numbers and came back with the ½ cent proposal. The building will be modest, it will take us longer to pay off the loan, and our budget will be tight, but with diligence, it can be done. None of our towns can afford this facility by themselves and we would not ask them to try. It is a big project and must have county wide support.
A: Right now we are looking at about 5 paid employees, so we will need and depend on volunteers. The source of employee compensation is yet to be worked out and will vary based on their role. For example, we plan to have a full time grant writer/grant administrator/fundraiser. A portion of their salary may derive from grant administration fees. Unfortunately, grants are never a sure thing. This person will have to dig for dollars every moment of the day and dream about it at night. MCCS will have to be creative and endlessly hardworking for extra funding for programs, new equipment, and educational innovations. We do not intend to ask the people for a tax and then just quit our other efforts. It will take all of us to make this work. The eventual success of the building will be directly related to the effort put forth, as with any good business. Donations will be critical. We will have numerous naming opportunities, everything from a section of the building to a brick in the outside walkway. We have researched this extensively and while many of our ideas for naming opportunities are not original, it seems they would work in our area. We plan to have someone at the facility reception desk greeting people and promoting Marion County with lists of our businesses and services. One of the offices off the lobby area is designated for our Chambers of Commerce if they wish.
A: While we want to reemphasize that the building is for all age groups, there is no doubt that long standing community concern for youth activities has been a major driving force on this project. The pool is probably one of the more exciting programs we are anticipating developing. Even our small schools can afford a swim team. We also anticipate opening this up to schools from surrounding counties if they are interested. The pool will be one of the most utilized portions of the building. While it does not show up clearly on the floor plan, we plan a beach or sloped entry on a portion of one side of the pool for easy access. The pool uses are innumerable. To date the pool has sparked interest in exercise programs, competition, rehabilitation, training for water emergencies on our local lakes and rivers, and the obvious just plain fun and relaxation. Other youth program possibilities are endless. We may not be able to get grants for the building but we can find funding for our kids. One of our greatest tasks will be to provide them opportunities for physical and mental involvement in credible, structured, and supervised programs. So you say, that sounds lovely, how are you going to do it? We’re excited about collaborating with area schools and other youth services for funding for youth programs. It’s amazing what is available even in a small community like ours. We have a plethora of existing services that could accomplish more with their resources if they had the facilities. Our task at MCCS is to build and maintain a building that will become a conduit for others. One final comment on this question, please note on the floor plan that the crafts and youth areas are close. This is intentional as we hope some of our fine local crafts persons will practice their skills here, pass on their knowledge to our youth thus preserving skills and values, and promote interest and confidence in a new generation.
A: This question is well beyond any of our current plans and discussion. It’s too far in advance for us to give you an accurate answer. However, it’s a great question because it allows us to clarify our vision for how the building will be used. We would anticipate that MCCS, Inc. will probably lease this service out. As previously stated, MCCS’ task is to provide a facility of facilities and opportunities. In other words another group may contract to provide fitness/exercise equipment, maintain it, and your agreement for equipment use will be with them. We can envision many new businesses/services cropping up in response to identified needs associated with the facility. For example, swim lessons, fitness clothing and equipment, vending, and catering from our local restaurants just to name a few. We’re looking forward to watching it grow!
A: Yes, to both questions. Because of expense, the planned kitchen is a catering kitchen. It will have ovens for reheating foods, large ice machines, etc. but no industrial equipment for preparing foods for large groups. That is simply not in the budget any time soon. We do plan to have light concessions with healthy food and drink choices…well, maybe a couple of unhealthy choices thrown in! Again, this is a rough draft floor plan and we still have work to do. We will seek input from the public before it is finalized.
A: We have no definite agreements with any higher education entity at this time. We have been researching the possibilities. Over the years, we have met with Dr. Ed Coulter (now retired) and more recently with Dr. Robin Myers, ASUMH Chancellor, to discuss extending some educational services for all age groups to the Marion County Community Center. This is all very preliminary but certainly has some exciting possibilities. We have also been asked by county residents to talk to North Arkansas in Harrison. Pending the results of the surveys, we will plan on doing that.
A: MCCS, Inc. and the community center project cannot be responsible for transportation to and from facility activities. However, we are very aware that is an issue for many Marion County residents. We have visited with the Senior Center in Flippin in years past to discuss the possibility of co-writing a grant to help with Senior Citizen transportation and we may have similar opportunities with the schools for after school programs, etc. People who fund grants want to see cooperative and collaborative efforts in communities!
A: MCCS, Inc. has this basic philosophy. It is not our intention to compete with or do harm to any other services or businesses in Marion County. The facility is to be used by those very services to promote themselves, their projects, and the county as a whole. It will be our great privilege to work with and augment other organizations and businesses.
A: It certainly was not our intention to miss anyone. We mailed out 7,200 surveys county wide. If you did not get a survey, please go on our web site, www.MarionCountyCommunityServices.org and hit the banner ad “Take Our Survey”. Your opinion is important to us and will count the same as everyone else.