BUCKHANNON – Members of the Buckhannon-Upshur community on Wednesday were given the chance to voice their opinion on the proposed new Stockert Youth and Community Center multipurpose building/gymnasium.
Buckhannon City Council organized a public meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 13, to discuss the project becuase the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires a public comment period to receive a USDA loan. The meeting took place at the current Stockert Youth and Community Center on East Main Street.
The meeting began with Amberle Jenkins, director of finance and administration for the City of Buckhannon, laying out the financials of the project. SYCC is funded by and operates as a department of the city under its General Fund.
Jenkins said the capital campaign currently has a balance of $443,000, with an additional pledge of $12,000. The city is applying for a USDA loan, which would last for a period of 30 years. Jenkins said although the city investigated other funding options, such as grants, none of them were successful or feasible.
“We could not find any other grants to build this type of facility except for USDA with the long-term financing, and their interest rate was much lower than the rates from other financial institutions,” Jenkins said. “Other than that, USDA has a Community Facilities Direct Line grant program; however, those funds are no longer available for this year. If the federal funds are appropriated, again, that wouldn’t be available until next year, and then the city wouldn’t qualify. It would be only for a portion of this project, so we can’t guarantee that.”
The city has also purchased three tracts of land next to the existing Stockert building for an estimated $295,500. The demolition and asbestos inspections conducted on the buildings existing on the land at the time totaled $100,000.
“All the costs for the engineering survey, technical evaluations and architectural fees are so far estimated at $374,000,” Jenkins said. “A financial feasibility study was also done – that’s a requirement with USDA – and that was $11,250; the environmental study was $8,000.”
All the costs predicted for the future were determined through the feasibility study and could change when the project is officially put out for bid, city officials said.
“We received an estimate that bond counsel fees could be $47,500 to $60,000, and then we also have a project cost for building and equipment, which will be $550,000,” Jenkins said. “The annual payment will be $300,000 and then the maintenance, utilities, insurance and all the miscellaneous expenses would be about $47,000 annually, but we don’t know the exact numbers until we go out to bid.”
Michael Mills, head of the Mills Group, also attended the meeting to discuss the design of the building. The current layout would feature a regulation-size basketball court, changing rooms, two bathrooms, an office, a workout/community room and more. A full description of the building plans may be found in a previous My Buckhannon story.
Mayor Robbie Skinner moderated the public comment period and asked participants to keep their responses to under five minutes.
Community member Willie Parker said he was formerly the Upshur County Administrator for 21-and-a-half years, and he remembered when Joyce Stockert bequeathed the funds to the County Commission to start the youth program.
“We operated for a number of years, and eventually, we transferred the operations to the city,” Parker said. “I think that was an excellent move, and the city has really taken off with the project. Debora [Brockleman] and her staff are excellent; it reaches hundreds and hundreds of children, and I don’t see this as competition with other projects that may be coming over the horizon. I see it working in conjunction with other projects, so I would encourage this project and that project to move forward.”
Parker was referencing a project helmed by the Upshur County Commission to establish a recreational complex on 70 acres that was bequeathed to them by J.F. Allen in October 2022.
“I think there’s a plan, a good plan in place for construction, and they have always had a programming plan,” Parker said. “When I was attending administrator, they did an excellent job on a very, very tight budget.”
“Both projects could dovetail — this very beautiful thing — it’s not a duplication of services,” he added.
SYCC employee Alexis Sears emphasized the importance of the additional space for SYCC’s programs.
“I’ve been here for three years now, so I’ve been here for summer camp, after-school programs and different programs,” Sears said. “This building needs to happen as soon as possible; we can only have 60 kids in the building at once, so having this gym would give us the opportunity to help more kids.”
“There are so many kids who want to come here,” she continued. “We have a waiting list – all these parents have no place to keep their kids because all the daycares are full, so we need more places for these kids to go — a safe place, more room, this building.”
Former SYCC employee Zack Karickhoff said the youth who attend SYCC programs would greatly benefit from a gym dedicated to SYCC services.
“These kids need this building, and no matter what the cost, we need to get this done; we have wasted so much time,” Karickhoff said. “Generations of kids are at a loss because we cannot put our foot down, and it is beyond time to do this. I, myself, growing up know how hard it was to get into a gymnasium for basketball; you have to jump through hoops to get into a gymnasium.”
He said the rest of the community would also benefit from the location of the new building.
“These kids need this, and adults need this right here in the center of town,” Karickhoff said. “It could be used for Strawberry Festival craft shows, dodgeball tournaments, volleyball tournaments – whatever you want. You could have it right here in the center, and all these businesses on Main Street could benefit from all that right here, not somewhere else. I am in favor of this place, and I will love and support the Stockert Youth Center until I die.”
Mitchell Shaw, president of the Board of Directors for the Upshur County Recreation Complex, addressed the room to dispel any rumors that he wanted to close SYCC.
“The only reason I came up here is to settle some rumors because as we all know, in a small town, rumors slide around, and I want to be very, very, very clear that the Upshur County Recreational Complex, and Mitchell Shaw – the human being and person – does not and will not ever advocate for Stockert Youth Center being taken away or gotten rid of,” Shaw said. “I have never said the words, ‘Stockert Youth Center should be closed.’ That has never come out of my mouth; that has never been my intent.”
Shaw asked the participants of the meeting to consider supporting another future recreation project.
“I hope everyone will also consider some potential projects that may be better suited for collaboration in the near future, which would be a community effort as well,” Shaw said. “Just be on the lookout for those before Thanksgiving.”
“I love Stockert,” he added. “I just want to see the community make the right decision financially – and the fiscally responsible decision – to ensure that all considerations are right before we build or break ground.”
When contacted for comment the day after the meeting, Skinner said that the city has no plan or intent to close SYCC or shut down its programming.
“I believe it is important to note that no one on city council or on county commission wishes to close SYCC or end the programming that has taken place at SYCC for more than 30 years,” Skinner said. “We appreciate Stockert; we recognize the need and the importance of having a youth center in our community. We see what it has always been, and regardless of whether or not an addition is built, Stockert Youth Center remains, and its programming continues.”
“Its service to our community will remain intact for many generations to come,” he added. “The city is fully committed to continuing the funding of the SYCC programming element and the services it provides.”