The Homer City Council held a work session with the Park, Arts, Recreation and Culture Advisory Commission Monday to discuss the future of the Homer Education and Recreation Complex, also known as the HERC.
The city has debated what to do with the former school for years as bringing the building up to code and maintaining the building becomes more expensive. Still, a vocal part of the community fights to keep it open, noting the importance of a recreational space.
The city currently has the HERC on life support, funding minimal operation costs by keeping the building heated at 55 degrees. After talks of selling the building, the council opened the discussion to what it would take to move forward on four different options including selling, turning the space into a hotel and convention center, converting it into a police station and multi-use facility, and revamping it to keep as a recreational facility.
Park, Arts, Recreation and Culture Advisory member Matt Steffy said, “If you're going to sell that piece of property, you're going to have to convince the citizens of Homer that we need to sell that piece of property and that it does not add any value outside of taxable value and financial value,” he said. “And that's going to be a hard sell and that's going to require a campaign that the city is going to have to invest some efforts into and some education and outreach if that's a decision the city wants to go with.”
The building is seen as having a strategic location for becoming a hotel and convention center and the city estimates it could sell it for just over four and a half million dollars.
The possibility of turning the HERC into a police station while still allowing the space to be used for community recreation brought up questions about how to meet everyone’s needs and defining what it would mean to share the space.
“There will need to be boundaries,” Steffy said. “There are going to be aspects of the police station that they don't want to have open to the general public and that's understandable and those lines need to be drawn before we say it's a shared facility."
Many members of the public brought up wanting to keep the HERC building as a recreational space, which would cost over 10 million dollars to bring up to code. There was a move to increase taxes years ago to pay for the restoration of the HERC but the move failed.
At the meeting, the conversation shifted from why the space was important to how to fund it. City Council member Shelly Erickson listed some of the options:
“Do we just let it sit there and just use little portions of it or do we find people who are willing to invest in it to make it so it works?” she asked. “I've been advocating for a while for a recreational district for everybody that lives outside the city of Homer because the people that pay the taxes for the city of Homer are the ones that are having to foot the bill.”
The council plans to have a facilitated discussion on the issue but has not yet set a date.