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How to Build a Recreation Center - the Case of Claremont NH

Last month, Jump & Splash hosted a public panel presentation entitled “How to build a Recreation Center.” Speakers Scott Hausler and Tim Hernon shared the story of how the new recreation center in Claremont NH was conceived and developed. Scott Hausler was Director of Recreation during this period, and Tim Hernon was (and is) Claremont’s Director of Parks and Facilities. About 40 local residents and city staff attended.

 Aquatic facilities include a lap pool and a smaller, warmer teaching pool.

Aquatic facilities include a lap pool and a smaller, warmer teaching pool.

Opened in 2013, Claremont’s center includes a competition pool, teaching pool, elevated track, basketball courts, fitness facility, aerobics room, multi-function rooms, conference room, game room, shower and locker rooms, and kitchen. The Center recovers 2/3 of its operating expenses through its very affordable membership fees ($350 per year for a family of four).

 Claremont's old community center was a private home gifted to the City in 1942. A 4-lane pool was installed in 1950.

Claremont's old community center was a private home gifted to the City in 1942. A 4-lane pool was installed in 1950.

Claremont’s prior indoor recreation facilities, including a 4-lane indoor pool, were housed in an old converted residence. Recognizing that this facility would not meet growing community needs, the city in 2001 undertook a needs assessment study to learn more about the facilities of interest to residents. The next step as a feasibility study to work out what facility features were would be financially feasible, and what kind of building they would require.

The project’s big break came in the form of a commitment of $3 million by the Claremont Savings Bank, a community donation to mark its 100th year. A capital campaign pursued private donations, but fell short of the matching target due to the financial crisis of 2008 and its aftermath, which greatly reduced donors’ ability to give. Eventually the city decided to issue a bond to cover the remaining $6M in construction costs. Private donors contributed an additional $1M for the interior buildout, furnishings and equipment.

 Fitness machines and an elevated track at the new recreation center.

Fitness machines and an elevated track at the new recreation center.

Every community has unique needs and resources for recreation. Claremont was able to meet the up-front capital requirements thanks to the bank donation and thanks also to the maturation of other city bonds, leaving room for in the city budget for a new bond to be issued. In annual operating expenses, the increase in operating costs (of the new center vs. the old one) were completely offset by the higher membership revenues. The city spends about the same amount on recreation as it did 10 years ago, even as participation has skyrocketed.

Chris Hancock