The question of what to with the Homer Education and Recreation Building, better known as the HERC, has been a heated subject for years. The former school building isn’t up to code and the city has mulled over whether to remodel the building, convert it into a new police station or simply sell the property.
The City of Homer Parks, Art, Recreation and Culture Advisory Commission is working through recommendations on what to do next. It held tours of the HERC Wednesday as a way to inform the public on the cost and benefits of all the options and receive input.
It’s around five p.m. at the HERC and yes, people are playing are playing pickle ball. But recreation manager Mike Ilg wants people to know the HERC is about much more than that.
“Youth basketball, youth soccer, gymnastics,” he listed off. “This isn’t just all about pickle ball. People think that when they think of the HERC, it’s just about pickle ball. That’s just not true.”
Illg is giving a tour of the building to almost twenty people. Right now, only the first floor is accessible to the public. The upstairs is not up to code and is sometimes used as a storage space for other departments.
“Stuff that the city is going to get rid of that people can bid on,” Illg said, motioning to couches and cushions.
To fix the upstairs and make it accessible would be expensive and the city has struggled with the question of funding. It has also considered selling the building, converting it into a police station or into a hotel convention center.
One thing the council knows it wants is informed public opinion. Matt Steffy is a Parks, Art, Recreation and Culture Advisory Commission member.
“The tours are kind of just to get people familiar,” he said. “What I've found in recent years is that there are a lot of heated opinions about the HERC but there's also a lot of lack of information."
The Homer City Council tasked the commission with evaluating next steps after it held a work session on the topic back in January.
“We’ll be reviewing some draft language for a resolution that will be going to the city council,” Steffy said. “We are essentially asking the city if a task force can be formed because the parks commission can't do it on our own.”
The HERC was last assessed in 2016 and there is other information on the condition of the building. But Steffy said that information is outdated and it’s the reason the commission wants a task force to be formed. He said the group would include members of various organizations and people from the community.
“People that have real estate experience, people that have facility management experience, people that have construction experience,” Steffy said. “Rather than the city just cutting a big check to have a contractor figure all this out, I think we could put together an articulate subcommittee that would be able to answer these questions for the city at very little cost. ”
Back at the tour, community members ask questions, peek into corners and talk about options. Adele Person has been a resident for nearly 20 years. She knows the conversation and community input about the HERC has been going on for a long time. But she thinks there’s still room for more.
“The community isn't a single voice,” Person said. “Like a lot of important conversations it kind of comes around until it finds a resonance that something happens and maybe this time is the time.”
The commission will pick the discussion back up at its meeting on March 22, where it will approve the final language that will be put before the council.