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The city is divided in assessing future of old Bolton station: Is it a community center in hiding, or more trouble than it's worth?

TIDINGS FILE PHOTO - Advocates say the engine bays at the station would be perfect for art classes and other activities. It doesn't have to be a zero-sum game.

That's how Friends of Robinwood Station (FORS) volunteer Kevin Bryck put it when he was asked about the prospects of installing another community center just down the road at the old Bolton Fire Station.

"We've been operating (Robinwood) as a community center for eight years," Bryck said. "If the people in Bolton want to put in the time and effort we put in, that's great. It's up for the City Council to decide."

The Bolton station — perhaps the most controversial City facility — lies about two miles southeast of Robinwood Station. And indeed, even that directional detail has been used as fodder for arguments about how to approach the future of the building

While some see the station — which was built in 1951 — as an aging storage facility with questionable alternative uses, others look past the clutter and envision an array of possibilities.

Bolton resident Peggy Kirkendall, her husband Bob and other members of the Bolton Neighborhood Association (BNA) feel that the property could and should be repurposed as a community center that could house the West Linn Food Pantry and West Linn Community Preschool — both in need of new homes — while also accommodating other meetings, classes and activities.

The group submitted a concept plan last year in response to a Request for Information (RFI) issued for the City's various "underutilized properties." The plan envisions a community center occupying about 2,470 square feet, while the food pantry would use 1,230 square feet and the preschool would take about 1,350.

"We would run the center, and it would cost them nothing." — Peggy Kirkendall

Now, with a projected $20 million available in future bond funds at the City level, the hope is to secure $1 million for the needed renovations at Bolton. After that, the City would be off the hook as Kirkendall and others plan to form a nonprofit similar to FORS that would run the community center. A proposed budget in the concept plan includes line items for utilities, janitorial services, insurance and property management, among other expenses.

"We would run the center, and it would cost them nothing," Kirkendall said.

Beyond hosting the food pantry and preschool, a Bolton community center could provide unique recreation opportunities that aren't found elsewhere, according to Kirkendall. Arts and crafts classes would be a major focus.

"You can't do that at Sunset; it's not set up at all," Kirkendall said. "And Robinwood is small, and it's basically one big room. ... At Bolton, you could divide the (engine) bay in two and have sculpture classes and painting at the same time, or two groups of Girl Scouts meeting at the same time. And they can be messy."SUBMITTED GRAPHIC - A concept drawing illustrates the vision Bolton neighborhood residents have for a revitalized old Bolton Fire Station that would serve as a multi-purpose community center.

The concept plan outlines a number of specific community center programs that would be sponsored by the BNA including monthly men's nights and women's nights, a monthly art night featuring music, poetry and visual arts, a senior night and after-school care. Kirkendall and other advocates also envision fee-based events like movie nights, book clubs, storytelling and more.

"Each of these endeavors would generate fees that would go to support ongoing management and maintenance of the facility in addition to the income generated from most of the organizations using the facility," the plan stated.

The BNA estimated that the community center would run on a $30,000 per year shortfall in its early years. The hope would be to fill that shortfall with fundraising activities and possible grants once a nonprofit is formed. The group might also start an endowment fund for larger donations to support community center operations.

"It is our belief that within 3-5 years we will have the endowment large enough to cover the operating shortfalls," the BNA wrote in the plan.

But some, including Mayor Russ Axelrod and City Council President Brenda Perry, remain skeptical about the community center proposal. Both before and after the GO bond passed, they said Bolton residents already have several places to meet in the library and McLean House, and that the property could be adversely affected by future road improvements on Highway 43. Others critics have said that Robinwood Station's relative proximity would make Bolton superfluous.

In recommendations presented to the council June 5, Axelrod suggested allocating between $30,000 and $75,000 in bond money for Bolton.

"According to city engineering staff, this commercial zoned property will be impacted by the future Hwy 43 improvement project, so any significant redevelopment should be considered later as part of the Hwy 43 project," Axelrod wrote. "The proposed bond funds would be for miscellaneous improvements to the existing building and property to better facilitate current uses and operations by the city and nonprofits."

He added that the City could consider a temporary use permit allowing the preschool to operate out of Bolton next year, though in a June 7 memo from City Manager Eileen Stein said there were several potential roadblocks to such a measure. The council will further discuss the idea at a July 23 work session.

"We've never said they serve no use to the community." — Ken Warner, assistant parks and recreation director

Kirkendall does not think the Highway 43 work would affect the Bolton station, and she felt that Axelrod and Perry were missing the point of the proposal. She also said it would serve far more than just the Bolton community, even though opponents of a community center at this site are worried about just that.

"I don't want it to be a private community center; I want it for everyone in West Linn," she said. "We'd open it to everybody, and we'd want board members to reflect different parts of the city."

A balancing act

Assistant Parks and Recreation Director Ken Warner said the City isn't against the idea of using buildings like the Bolton hall as community spaces, but that it must always weigh the costs and benefits.

"About three years ago, the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board was tasked to look at City-owned properties and potential properties around the city, and at that time we did a very extensive review of not only Bolton and Robinwood but also the old city hall building, and granges in public ownership," Warner said. "What the parks board decided was that these facilities do not meet the city's need for recreation programming on a community-wide basis, and that has kind of been what we've projected all along.

"We've never said they serve no use to the community. But as we look at city budgets and funding going forward, they also acknowledge that having multiple satellite facilities under the Parks and Recreation department is not probably as financially stable as a central recreation center model."

Parks and Recreation Board member Don Kingsborough had a similar recollection of the discussions.

"We looked and in order to bring (Bolton) up to city standards, it would take an awful lot of money," Kingsborough said. "Robinwood wasn't in as bad of shape, but it fell in the same category. So we said, 'City Council, we don't think Parks and Rec has the budget or wherewithal to deal with these buildings."

But Kingsborough certainly understands the allure of these buildings.

"When I was a boy growing up, my Boy Scout troop met at Bolton Fire Hall, so I would love to see it as a building for the community," he said. "In the budgeting process, it's going to be difficult, and I don't envy the city councilors."

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