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Loan required to get new community center in O'Hara off the ground

| Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014, 3:54 p.m.

O'Hara Council on Tuesday night agreed to loan up to $1.5 million to the Community Center Association for fear its long-awaited $9.2 million facility would slip away.

Five of the seven council members said they would vote next week to bridge the fundraising gap to see ground break on a new community center to replace the dilapidated Boyd school that houses more than 200 social, cultural and educational programs.

Council members Scott Frankowski and Bart Bodkin said they favor the project but were hesitant to approve a loan that would come from taxpayer's pockets. O'Hara has already committed $2 million in tax dollars to the construction campaign.

Community Center Board Members asked council for the loan this week after a second round of bids for site work came in higher than expected. New estimates place the community center to be built on the existing Powers Run Road campus at about $8.8 million for the base design or $9.2 million for what members call the “full vision” with an expanded multi-purpose room and enlarged fitness center.

“We are asking you to help us get the shovels in the ground,” CCA President Enzo Santilli said.

He said the community center's reliance on municipal support has declined over the years, and, he said that even if fundraising efforts don't pan out, the fitness center in the new facility will generate enough revenue to repay the township's loan. Santilli also said the current Boyd building will have a hard time limping through another winter with its inefficient single-pane windows and failing heat system.

Bids for new construction expire on Aug. 20, forcing council's hand. If contracts are not signed by then, some members said prices will only go up again.

“I don't want to see this thing go away,” Council President Bob Smith said. “I believe this is a partnership that is good for our community.”

Santilli said CCA members are waiting to hear about $1.2 million in grant applications. There also are $1.6 million in naming opportunities to be sold at the new site.

Township Manager Julie Jakubec said if Council approves the loan, she would refinance a 2009 township bond and incorporate up to $1.5 million into it.

Smith and other council members said it wasn't likely that the township would have to raise taxes to cover the loan but that didn't sit well with several audience members.

“I am one of the gray-haired ladies living on fixed incomes,” said Joanne Balkey, who lives off Kittanning Pike. “I think there are a lot of people in O'Hara that don't fully understand that this cost will fall on us.”

Council is expected to vote on the loan during its meeting at 7 p.m. Aug. 12 at the municipal office along Fox Chapel Road.

Tawnya Panizzi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at tpanizzi@tribweb.com.

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