Community Center searches for way forward

A leaky roof that board members say is in serious need of fixing before the next rainy season has reignited controversy over the future of the Community Center of La Cañada Flintridge.

During budget hearings last week, center board member Meredith Reynolds urged the La Cañada Flintridge City Council to put up $118,000 in city funds to replace the more than 60-year-old structure’s 9,500-square-foot roof.

Instead, council members — who already provide nearly $50,000 per year for Community Center upkeep and activities — held tightly to their purse strings, saying the issue requires taking a longer view to assess the building’s many and various needs.

In the coming weeks, two council members will be appointed to reconvene an ad hoc committee on Community Center issues, said Mayor Dave Spence.

While minor building repairs have long been handled by volunteers or a part-time handyman, the roof is now too far gone for anything short of a total rebuild, according to Reynolds and Executive Director Megan Nordvedt.

“We can’t get a handle on it ourselves. We’re beyond the point of patching and tarping and having volunteers help us solve this problem,” said Nordvedt.

Other structural issues include rotting wood, uneven doors, a network of outdoor walkways that are difficult to navigate and a general lack of modern amenities.

Although the Community Center is municipal property, a 1996 operating agreement between the city and the center’s board (known then as the La Cañada Youth Council) relieves City Hall of any obligation, “in any manner whatsoever, to repair and maintain” the building.

But becoming the kind of organization that raises large sums of money for capital projects was never the Community Center board’s intent — and, at this point, is beyond its capacity, according to Reynolds.

Even the structure itself, the original 1950s floor plan and multiple makeshift add-ons over the decades, was built by local volunteers, rather than by professionals.

“This organization has always run as a way to provide very affordable programs, some of them free. The original idea was that kids could come here and hang out after school and not really pay anything,” Reynolds said.

For that to suddenly change now while continuing to serve approximately 2,000 visits per week, “we’d have to raise our fees a lot and become something we’re not,” Reynolds said.

Many years ago, City Council members began informal talks with the board about possibly renovating or even replacing the Community Center, but none of those plans got off the ground, said Councilwoman Laura Olhasso.

“The city funded an architect to come up with some plans for a new building. It had had a very large price tag, something like $25 million — certainly nothing the city can pay for, but we said we’d be happy to apply for any grants out there…or put a bond on the ballot so voters can decide. And just as those talks were coming to a head, the economy tanked,” said Olhasso.

Reynolds believes construction of a new Community Center complex would make the most sense — if for no other reason, than to reinvent the building’s often confusing floor plan.

“That’s a more detailed discussion that I was prepared to have in a single morning at a budget hearing when we were considering lots and lots of things. We’re going to have to dig into this question and talk about what the numbers are and what the plan is,” said Councilman Steve Del Guercio, who called on Reynolds for a detailed presentation of the Center’s operating budget.

If council members eventually do allocate public funds for a building remake or remodel, it wouldn’t be the city’s first major investment in the Community Center.

The city’s purchase of the building in 1996, a time when the board struggled to stay afloat, allowed the city to divert more than $30,000 per year in county sales tax revenues to reimburse the board for some of its costs.

But in the building’s dilapidated state, those payments — and maybe even the operating agreement itself — aren’t sufficient for the center to make do anymore, said Nordvedt.


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