Thursday, September 25, 2003

Community gathering places in works

By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

WEST CHESTER TWP. - A 122-year-old barn may get a new lease on life as a modern-day center of community activity.

A final decision on the barn's new use is expected soon from township officials. They see it as a conference and senior citizens center that could be rented out on weekends for community events. Construction could start as early as spring.

"It seems like the best use would be for seniors to have access to it all the time and meetings in evenings and on weekends and conferences," Trustee Dave Tacosik said Wednesday. "But we need to make it self-sufficient. We can't be saddled with a large expense."

The wood barn that is 100 feet long and 40 feet high was donated to the township last year and will be reconstructed at the 150-acre Beckett Park.

The barn isn't listed on a historical register, but it is tied to the Muhlhauser family, one of the region's original beer dynasties.

The Muhlhauser family pledged $40,000 to move the building for the township.

Plans for West Chester's proposed community recreation center also moved forward this week. Trustees on Tuesday approved $120,000 to Messer Construction Co. of Cincinnati for pre-construction services on the $20 million to $30 million center.

"This is the first year we have absolutely known we had enough money to build a community center. Before that, we didn't know," Trustee Catherine Stoker said. "The community center has probably been the single most asked for amenity residents wanted, along with better soccer fields."

Messer will hire a financial marketing team to provide an in-depth feasibility study to determine whether there is a need for the center - and if users will pay enough to support the operating costs, she said.

A similar study was conducted last year by a health care provider that the township considered partnering with on the community center. However, that potential partnership has stalled.

A final decision is expected in January on whether the community recreation center will be built. At that time, a draft fee structure for users and a conceptual drawing of the main features and facilities will be released, Stoker said.

The center likely will emerge on 211/2 acres at the southeast corner of Union Centre Boulevard and West Chester Road across from Lakota West High School.

More than half of the parcel, 111/2 acres, would be donated by the landowner, West Chester 75 Inc., who would build a park with benches, fountains and a clock tower.

The township plans to use tax increment financing (property taxes from businesses) in TIF districts already established in the Union Centre Boulevard/Ohio 747 areas to build the center and to pay for the $3 million renovations on the barn.


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