Long-Term Facilities Planning—We must invest, but when?
Council Corner: Long-Term Facilities Planning—We must invest, but when?
By Jon Anderson
Unfortunately, we have not done the best job on long-range facilities planning. As Scarborough grew rapidly this past decade, the Town did not have an absorption plan to ensure our facilities grew along with us. Now we are at a bit of a crossroads.
There are many facilities needs being actively discussed right now in Town. The Council will have a workshop in July highlighting all the major facilities projects so the community can have a good baseline of the facility investment needs in the near term. Some of the key projects to be discussed include:
Library Expansion: The Library has been working hard for many years to develop expansion plans to meet the increased needs of the community. A library is far more than just books on shelves, providing essential services to the community, particularly to those with less means. As the cost of living and affordability continues to skyrocket, the services provided by the library are important to ensure equity and access to education, learning, and programming that enrich our community. To do that effectively, they need more space. The Library is ready to come to voters as soon as this November. As Council liaison to the Library Board of Trustees, I can say they have done their due diligence and are asking voters for support on a space that will meet the current and future needs of Scarborough residents.
Community Center: From our Town-wide Survey, there was clear support for a Community Center and the Council committed to pursue one as part of our goals. In the budget, the Council funded contractor support to help better define the requirements - which will be built off of the hard work that was done by the Ad Hoc Community Center Committee prior to COVID. When I talk to residence, they often talk about how something like a community center is missing to enhance the quality of life in Scarborough. Depending on the location and terms of the Community Center, the Town may be able to leverage sheltered TIF revenues to help pay for the facility instead of needing to take out additional debt. There is still more work to be done to scope this need, and I look forward to working with the Recreation Advisory Committee to further evaluate this project further this year.
Consolidated Primary School: Our schools are overcrowded today. Growth and school enrollments aside, they are just too small. The School relaunched their School Building Committee earlier this year, with Councilor Sither and I serving as the Council liaison to the committee. If you have not had an opportunity to participate in one of their Community Forums, I highly encourage you to check one out. The last one highlighted the site selection process and how choices are being narrowed down. Selecting the site is critical to develop building plans and provide an estimated cost for the project. For the Primary Schools, we are well past due to address the current needs. Our teachers and staff are doing an excellent job providing an outstanding education to our students today given the space constraints. Pedagogy evolves over time, and our school facilities are making it more difficult to deliver modern methods of learning required for continued academic excellence in Scarborough.
These are just three major priorities that meet different, and in some cases complementary, needs of our community. It excludes other major facilities and infrastructure work that need to be done also captured in our capital improvement plan, including enhancements to existing roadways and sidewalks and the priorities that will come out of the Parks and Facilities Master Plan, which some of you may have recently received a survey request for in the mail to help prioritize needs.
What is the best path forward on all of these needs? Given the affordability crisis in Scarborough, how do we do this in a manner that is planful with appropriate financial impact to residents? We’ve delayed some of these for so long, the longer we wait the more expensive they will become and the quality of life or education in Scarborough will begin to deteriorate. We must invest as a community, but on what and when? This is a tough task, choices will need to be made. I hope you will be vocal and share your views to help guide decisions as we navigate these investments in our Town’s future.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Scarborough Town Council.