HOPKINTON — While most towns have needs and are trying to figure out how to fund them, Hopkinton has found itself with a pile of money, but isn't sure if there's a need for it.
Sitting in a capital reserve account, established in 1999 to fund the renovations of Columbia Hall, is nearly $300,000 worth of taxpayer's money that doesn't yet have a purpose. At the time the fund was established, the idea was to convert Columbia Hall into a community center, but due to problems with the building, the hall ended up being torn down.
The next thought was to convert the old barn that sits next to the library into a community center, but according to Jim O'Brien, chairman of the board of selectmen, the cost of that particular problem seemed to many people to be prohibitive.
Until March, the money sat in the bank, accumulating interest. At town meeting, selectmen proposed adding it to the general fund and reducing the tax rate. But voters, with a vague notion of a community center in mind, decided they wanted to hold onto that money a little while longer to see what might be done with it.
The money can only be used for a community center — not for any other building — so a committee has been established to look at what the needs of the town are and to find out what the people really want.
Heading that effort is resident Bob LaPree, a retired Union Leader photographer turned community activist who is serving as chairman of the Hopkinton Community Center Study Committee.
Over the next couple of weeks, residents will be asked to complete a short survey to help guide the committee as it tries to determine what the needs of the town are, and how best to meet them while paying close attention to the bottom line.
“I didn't want to see us go all willy-nilly into a fancy thing and spending a lot of money on something we might not need,” LaPree said.
Instead, LaPree and the committee are looking carefully at both the present space issues including the lack of recreation facilities for non-school activities, especially for the pre-school set, as well future space issues that may arise as the town's demographic changes.
“Hopkinton has a lot of senior people, but we also always have a constant inflow of people with young children because we have such a good school system,” he said.
There are restrictions on the use of the Slusser Senior Center, and the schools are heavily used for activities sponsored by the district, so it's possible that the town needs a new space that can be used for everything from classes to playgroups to theatrical productions.
“There's no real theater facility in town,” said LaPree. “The high school has a stage, but there are no dressing rooms. That might be something we look at.”
Committee member Byron Carr has been actively campaigning for a Creative Life Center where folks could come, learn about art, make a mess, and explore everything from drawing to theater arts and music.
But before any particular plan is targeted, the committee wants to hear from the residents what their thoughts are — if they want something big or small, one big room or lots of little ones, a new building or a renovated one.
LaPree said the committee's survey will be handed out at this week's July 4 parade and is available and can be dropped off at various places including town hall, the town clerk's office, the library and the senior center. The deadline for the surveys is July 15.