Officials debate whether Golf Course clubhouse costs can/should be covered by Public Safety Building budget

by beth on December 8, 2017

Post image for Officials debate whether Golf Course clubhouse costs can/should be covered by Public Safety Building budget

Above: The clubhouse at the St. Mark’s Golf Course may be a stumbling block as Town officials strive to keep all of their promises to voters. (photo from golf course website)

This week, the Public Safety Building Committee presented updated project costs to the Board of Selectmen. The Chair made clear that while there are cost overages “on paper” members are still striving to stay within their original budget presented to voters. He clarified that figure is $2 million below the “contingency” they included in the voter-approved budget allowance.

During the discussion that followed, it became clear that some members disagreed with a budget decision not to include costs for a related project. At issue is relocation of the clubhouse for the adjacent St. Mark’s Golf Course.

The central point of the debate is how to keep potentially conflicting promises made to voters who approved the project.

At the Special Town Meeting, voters were presented a budget exclusive to building the public safety complex. They were specifically told it did not include expenses to keep the golf course running. And there were indications that any additional costs for the golf course would come back to Town Meeting.*

But voters were also told that the project would allow the golf course to remain open. The Save the Golf Course group even presented a mock up plan of the Conservation Restriction allowing the clubhouse.

Meanwhile, construction of the complex is due to begin in the spring, and requires demolition of the club house. PSBC member John Rooney said that digging a new foundation for the clubhouse needed to be one of the first items when construction begins in the spring. He warned that if the course closes, it will lose members. He called that a “death knell” to the course.

According to Chair Jason Malinowski, they were advised by the Town’s Bond Counsel that they can’t fund the majority of clubhouse relocaton costs. He explained that the cost of demolishing the clubhouse was included in the approved article. Therefore, an equivalent approx $30K could be spent on relocating the above ground structure.

He said they couldn’t fund the about $300k needed to build a new foundation, connect the structure to it, hookup septic and electrical, build a retaining wall to allow a parking lot behind it, and construct the gravel lot. 

Member Kathy Cook, who also serves on Advisory, questioned the decision. She indicated her reading of the emailed statement from the Bond Counsel was different than what they were told it meant by Town Administrator Mark Purple. She pointed out that the article language covered costs “incidental” to the Public Safety Building.

Purple agreed to readdress the question with the Counsel. Commenters on the topic debated whether it would be right to use PSBC funds for that purpose. And the Golf Course Committee Chair warned of additional expenses to keep the course open.

Rooney lobbied to use PSBC funds for the clubhouse. The former selectman helped arrange the land deal with St. Mark’s and pitched the project to voters. In addition to serving on the PSBC, he is its liaison to the Golf Course Committee.

He argued that the project only received voter approval based on the agreement reached to keep the course open. So while he agreed that voters were told money would only be spent on the building, he didn’t see how else they could keep their promise to those voters.

Advisory member Dorian Jasinski and resident Timothy Litt argued against using PSBC funds.

Jasinski recalled being told that capital costs for the golf course would be covered by its management company. And Litt recalled being told that the golf course proponents would bring a funding request to voters. He said he was concerned about the building project being used as a piggy bank.

GCC Chair Louis Palecki alerted selectmen that even more costs than already discussed would be required to keep the course open. He pointed out that temporary facilities would be needed while the clubhouse was being relocated. That may include trailers and secondary access to parking.

Palecki agreed to hold a joint meeting to walk selectmen and the Advisory Committee through all the projects costs and how it will be paid for. He qualified that with their limited resources the estimates would be rough.

As for the new extemates on building the new safety complex, Malinowski said that two independent quotes were commissioned. The design architect and the owners project manager based them on updated drawings detailing 30-50% of the plan.

The higher of the updated figures came in “within” $44K of the original building plan. But the “site work” came in at $1.4 million more than expected. He stressed that, at this point, those costs are only “on paper”. They believe they can bring them down significantly.

Malinowski said that within a day the committee was already presented with a list of potential savings that exceeds the $1.4 million. He believed with a little more time, that list would grow. Then the committee has to take those options to the safety chiefs for discussion.

He acknowledged that some concessions may be a hard no based on operating needs. But he believed some were “no brainers” and others were likely middle ground “nice to haves” that they could work on reducing.

In explaining higher costs, the PSBC Chair said the first estimate was based on a “10,000 foot view” that failed to capture some cost details (the biggest was $300K for the car port canopy). He also pointed to geotechnical testing requiring them to “dig a little deeper” than expected and increase in cost in for those types of services.

Malinowski forecast that new federal tax plans may impact the Town’s future construction bids. He said that likely incentives may mean a continued uptick in construction, which isn’t in the Town’s favor.

The building plan will be in front of the Planning Board for a hearing on Monday night at 7:30 pm. One element he predicted as a potential point of conflict was plans for the driveway.

Malinowski asked selectmen to support their position that a separate drive is needed for the safety complex – not to be combined with drivers/buses accessing the golf course or Woodward school. The Town’s consulting engineer’s recommendation about the safety issues differed from their findings. They hoped that their new signage suggestions would resolve that.

*I can’t find promises from the presentations at STM that golf course proponents would return to Town Meeting with a plan. (Although I don’t have time to review every minute of that meeting.)

It’s also important to note that I can’t recall if selectmen or other Town officials ever promised to bring the initiative back to a Town Meeting. (The Save the Golf Course group was a group of residents behind a citizen’s petition, not a Town committee.) Though, I do know that they made clear that the budget presented was not for the golf course.

But in support of those (including myself) with that impression that the golf group would bring expenses back to voters, I did find:

  • In the Save the Golf Course group’s presentation, John Wilson told voters that the course would only continue to run if it didn’t financially impact the Town. He followed that user fees pay for maintenance.
  • That group’s original Article 3 stated: “Funding for the redesign and reconstruction of part of the Golf Course, required to accommodate the Public Safety Facility, may be submitted at a future Town Meeting, so that the redesign may be done concurrently with the design of the Public Safety Facility, and so that the impact of the Public Safety Facility can be minimized”
  • Those proponents urged voting for the revised Article 1 (instead of their article) as achieving their needs. No one told voters that there was a change in plans to have some costs for the golf course absorbed by the Public Safety Building project.

That is all in addition to a lot of presentations in the weeks running up to that night. Many voters attended or watched meetings to prepare for the Town Meeting. I recall that the group made promises in public meetings and presentations that if voters supported them a project would return to Town Meeting for funding the redesign needed in order to keep the course open. But I don’t have time to research that more thoroughly.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 n December 8, 2017 at 1:50 PM

I supported the Public Safety facility at the special town meeting despite the golf course being partnered with it.

I know many others who were disappointed and concerned with the connection and weak statements that were made in regards to how the costs to facilitate continued golf course operations would be addressed separately.

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2 David Parry December 9, 2017 at 10:12 PM

To explain the funding issue further …. I was the author of Article 3, (independent of the “Golf Group”, of which I was one of 4 members, led by John Wilson). Article 3 called for giving up a small fraction of the course for the Public Safety Facility, PROVIDED the course would continue in operation at a slightly reduced length, and also PROVIDED that Conservation Restrictions were placed on the ENTIRE remaining course in perpetuity. I explained at Tn Mtg the Site plan showing the outline boundary line of the restrictions.

As to costs, Article 3 stated that costs to make the course changes (required as a result of the PS project) COULD be funded later. It did not preclude the course being funded by the PS project, which we supported..

In the interest of getting the entire package approved at Town Meeting , I agreed to withdraw Article 3 , BUT ONLY AFTER Article 1 was radically amended to provide for EVERYTHING already in Article 3, such as the restrictions and continued course operations.

It is correct that the PS project budget never included the course changes …. Which was a real pity .., but the simple reasons were :

(1) there was no time to figure out the costs because there was no course architect…. But now there is. .
(2) There was a political judgement call made that adding more costs would drive the total cost to a level that might jeopardize the entire package. Thus it was left unresolved, BUT nevertheless clearly understood that the course WOULD DEFINITELY BE FUNDED IN SOME MANNER (NOT YET DETERMINED .) AND WOULD CONTINUE IN OPERATION. …

So now the capital cost IS being determined. And it is VITAL that it be fully funded in 2018 and kept operating. If it closes down it will lose members and financial viability.

Furthermore it was NEVER stated that the course membership fees could pay for the capital cost changes. The fees can only pay for regular operations and maintenance.

I hope this explains the issue. Let’s get the course changes funded , and keep it in operation, as promised to voters.

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3 brain December 10, 2017 at 5:55 AM

“But voters were also told that the project would allow the golf course to remain open. ”

I’m not a golfer but i do have a question. Why is a club house needed to play golf? The sport is outdoors, no?

A vote to keep the golf course open is not the same as a vote to keep a clubhouse open. If it is essential could someone explain why? Thanks,

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4 Brian December 10, 2017 at 6:04 AM

Hello,

“But voters were also told that the project would allow the golf course to remain open.” – stated above.

I am not a golfer, but I do have a question. Why is a clubhouse needed to play golf. The sport is outside, no?

Voting for a course to stay open is different from voting to put funds towards a clubhouse to stay open.

If it is a necessity could someone explain why? Thanks.

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5 beth December 10, 2017 at 7:40 AM

It wasn’t specified, but I assumed it includes the administrative office which allows for people to pay to golf, etc

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6 Townie December 10, 2017 at 9:31 AM

Here’s my worry, and Mr Parry actually touched on it in his comment with “If it closes down it will lose members and financial viability.”

I’m not a golfer so the furture of the golf course really doesn’t bother me, what does is the ability of this course to produce revenue. Not one person has stepped forward with a business plan. All we have heard about it we need this, we need that, we need money.

I’ve read that golf as a recreational sport has seen a huge decline lately, especially in small courses. This area alone as seen smaller courses, like St Marks, close due to the fact they cannot be financially viable. Watching similar local courses close due to low revenue is a much more reliable statistic than hopes and dreams. Also, from what I’ve heard from friends who do golf, why would they play at a soon to be even smaller 9 hole when they can travel to the next town over for 18?

I’m not for this town allocating, apparently millions, to a golf course that has not proven it will be able to be financially viable. Talk about a waste of money. Any sound minded investor would think we are crazy to be doing this. The golf course sounded like a good idea at the time, but in reality it a huge mistake for this town. It will be a huge waste of money that has no proof of bring back to the community. If the town wants to preserve it as a golf course, sell it to a private owner.

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7 Debra December 10, 2017 at 12:15 PM

Another example of Southborough committees pushing rash decisions on the voters with no real understanding of the situation and absolutely no plan.

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8 Andre Fortin December 11, 2017 at 8:49 AM

I hope I can shed some light into some of the questions and misconceptions being voiced above.
First of all, let me applaud all the residents that are actively taking part in this process, incl. those with whom we may disagree. Hopefully these clarifications can help you make a more informed choice.
Let me begin by re-iterating the essence of our Town vote on March 8th and summarizing the will of the people:
1) Purchasing the 60 acres or so of the open space golf course from St-Mark’s school in a land and money swap.
2) Allotting a portion of that land, 5 or 6 acres of it, give or take, for a new public facility building.
3) Putting the entire rest of the open land under a Conservation Restriction, in perpetuity, for the benefit of the Town residents, which is to include golf and passive recreation.

That’s what we voted on, and all of us (i.e. residents and public officials) need to keep our eye on that ball going forward to make sure that these points are realized and implemented.

Re: Need for Clubhouse
In order for the golf course to be able to generate an income stream for the Town that will help maintain it and, hopefully, turn a profit, we need to restore it functionally, because a portion of its present land is being taken away to locate the public facility.
The clubhouse presently sits on that portion of the land.
The reason the clubhouse is required is because it essentially functions as a CPU (Central Processing Unit) for the daily operation of the golf course, providing a facility where patrons can be checked in for play, purchase water and refreshments, use the bathroom, start play in an orderly fashion via tee times etc… More importantly, the foundation underneath the clubhouse is where all the golf carts are stored, and electrically charged. Without those, we will never be able to attract the many profit generating leagues who currently play there, as well as the many patrons and senior citizens who prefer to ride instead of walking.
Because the carts are all stored under the footprint of the clubhouse, they don’t take up any additional, and precious, space, which we have lost due to the new public facility.
Thus, the clubhouse functions as the heart or ticker for golf play. Without it, there is no possibility of attracting the necessary patronage and running a profitable course.

Re: Necessary Golf course modifications
In order for golf to resume in uninterrupted fashion next spring, a few key things need to happen. Most importantly, the clubhouse foundation needs to dug, and the clubhouse needs to be moved a few hundred feet to rest on top of it. Power, lighting and septic need to be hooked up to the new location. And the current parking area needs to be re-located/created near it in order to accommodate golfers.
Furthermore, the ninth green and 1st tee need to be temporarily re-located in order for the golf course to be deemed fully operational as a nine hole course.

Re: Associated Costs
Right now, the only money that the Public Facility committee has committed to the golf course portion of the project from their entire multi-million dollar budget is an amount roughly in the neighborhood of $30,000. That’s just sufficient to either demolish the clubhouse, or physically move it to the new location. We prefer the latter….
So that’s it. That’s the only money they are willing to spend on restoring the golf course.
We are thus left with searching for the funds to 1) dig a foundation for the clubhouse, 2) hook power, lighting and septic, and 3) create a parking area for golfers adjacent to the clubhouse.
That amount has been pegged at roughly $300,000. We still need to fine tune it, but that is a reliable ball park figure to go by right now.
(Note that the temporary re-location of the tee and green are not included in the above. That’s because the management company that will be running the course is responsible for that commitment per the contract.)

So, that’s we are at the moment.
As of this writing, the BoS has asked the Town treasurer to investigate the language of Article 1 to determine if those funds can be found and legitimately allotted to the above tasks required to keep golf operations going. That’s per the recent BoS meeting of Dec 5th.

But it’s the IV we need to survive at the moment, and we’re not hooked up yet.

A recent history lesson:
Back in March, we (the non official golf course committee, and the open land/Latisquama residential group) banded as a unified group to help push Article 1 through. Without our combined efforts, there would be no talk of a new public facility, because it never would have passed.
And it only passed, because the will of the people was for the entire parcel of open land, minus the 5 or so acres required for the public facility, to be put under a Conservation Restriction, in perpetuity, on which golf play could/would continue and provide passive recreation possibilities for all the residents. That was the spirit of the agreement we engaged in and successfully passed.

Those are the facts that can’t be ignored.

It was a goodwill gesture on our part to dedicate this effort and time in order to insure that eventually, all parties would come together and “do the right thing”, namely, solve the public facility need for our first responders, place the rest of the land under a Conservation Restriction in perpetuity, and keep golf operational for the Town.

The above is what we voted for. Now we need to get it past the finish line.

You would think it would be just a matter of implementing the will of the people as voted on last March.
But no. Sadly, it appears that this battle is far from over, and powerful forces are now seemingly trying to undermine the whole process.

Rest assured. We may not have any political power, but our eyes are wide open, and our ears are super tuned in……

Please help! Stay involved!

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