Published in the November 29, 2016 edition.
By MARK SARDELLA
WAKEFIELD — The town would like to take back control of the Americal Civic Center from the nonprofit entity that has been managing the building since 1983.
“The Civic Center Board has done a good job of managing the building but community needs and building needs are making continued management of the building problematic and too costly,” Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio told the Board of Selectmen last night.
Maio said that he would like to see the Civic Center managed under the Recreation Department, which could also use the space for some of its programs and help realize more of the building’s potential while bring in more money to the town.
The town owns the building and has been leasing it to the nonprofit Americal Civic Center Association, which manages the building, for $1 a year. The town and the Association currently have a 10-year lease agreement that expires in 2019. But the lease has a six-month termination clause, and Maio told the board that he would like to invoke that termination clause by the end of December.
The building was constructed in 1913 as a state armory. It was decommissioned by the state in 1975 and sold to the town for $1. The town closed the building in 1981 as it was deemed too expensive to operate. In the meantime, the Americal Civic Center Association was formed and the building was reopened in 1983.
Maio said that in recent years the potential of the Civic Center as a town-owned asset has become more apparent even as it also became evident that the building could not self-fund itself or fund needed capital improvements under the present management model.
Maio noted that through Town Meeting action, the town has paid for many capital improvements to the building, including energy improvements, work on the roof, front walkway and columns. The town also paid for remodeling the Heritage Room and sanding and waxing the floors of the drill room.
Maio noted that none of the Civic Center’s current tenants would be displaced if the town took over running the building. The Boys & Girls Club, Maio noted, pays close to $60,000 a year to the Civic Center Association for use of a portion of the building.
Other tenants in the building include the Wakefield Interfaith Food Pantry, which pays $10,000 a year, JC Marketing ($16,000), the Wakefield Basketball Association ($3,000 a year) and other youth sports groups ($3,000).
Maio noted that while there is significant money coming in, each year all of the income is used just to run and maintain the building. They would never have been able to do any of the needed capital improvements over the years without the town, Maio maintained.
He also said that looking at the financial books for the building he identified about $100,000 in areas like management and legal fees that the town would not incur if it managed the building.
He said that he has been talking to Selectman Tony Longo, a former Recreation Commission member, about the potential for the building to become a real money-maker for the town under the Recreation Department.
Maio said that he would move the Recreation Department office and its director, Dan McGrath, into the Civic Center. He and Longo both said that McGrath has communicated to them that he feels that the Civic center is underutilized and could be an even greater asset to the town than it currently is.
Maio also noted that the Recreation Department has already been doing a lot of cooperative programming with the Boys & Girls Club.
He said that he expected that under town management a better long-term capital plan would be developed for the Civic Center. There would also be more kinds of events and better management of events, more sports and Recreation Department programs along with an increase in income from the programming.
Types of programs that have been discussed, according to Maio, include drop-in playgroups, women’s fitness classes, children’s birthday party rentals, adult volleyball and dance classes, art classes, cooking classes and more.
Maio said that by taking over the building it would not only bring in more money toward the capital upkeep of the building but could also bring in revenue to offset the tax levy.
Members of the board voiced their support for Maio’s proposal and the selectmen voted unanimously to authorize Maio to initiate termination of the lease with the Civic Center Association.