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Berlin to issue RFP for new study

Berlin Town Councilman Troy Purnell, left, and Town Administrator Laura Allen discuss a proposed YMCA feasibility study during a Town Council meeting Monday night. The council directed Allen to release bid requests for a study, rather than use the YMCA preferred vendor Triangle2, citing the need for a broader look into community needs, as well as some concerns over Triangle2’s closeness with the YMCA organization.

Rather than pursue YMCA directly, town to take broad look at community needs

By Josh Davis, Associate Editor

(Feb. 14, 2019) Rather than jump straight into the deep end and fund a $20,000 YMCA feasibility study to gauge interest in an indoor swimming pool and other amenities, the Berlin Town Council on Monday night agreed to a broader and more measured approach.

The council last month tabled a decision on the YMCA study, citing the need for more information and others concerns.

Town Administrator Laura Allen on Monday said she spoke with Triangle2, the firm YMCA uses for feasibility studies, on Feb. 1. The call apparently included Berlin Falls Park Coordinator David Deutsch and Triangle2 co-owner Lori Swan.

According to Allen, 75 percent of the firm’s work is with the YMCA.

“Both owners, she disclosed to us, have worked for YMCAs, but most of the staff has not,” Allen said, addressing questions as to whether a conflict of interest exists.

“She also said, in terms of the analysis that they do, about 30 to 50 percent of the deals that they look at do not … pencil out, so they don’t proceed,” Allen continued. “She also emphasized that these arrangements are partnerships, and that they really look to work closely with their local communities to build a facility in a partnership fashion.”

Based on those discussions, Allen said she now recommended conducting a paper and web-based survey “to get a sense from the community regarding services and facilities that they would be looking for.”

She said the survey could be distributed with utility bills, with an online version available on the town website.

“There’s no issue with duplicate answers or duplicate responses, because we’re just sort of gathering information and perspective from the community regarding facilities and programs,” Allen said.

She said an example question Triangle2 generally includes is whether residents would favor tax increases to pay for more recreation offerings.

“We would want to include that question,” Allen said, adding the paper and web-based survey could be followed by community meetings or focus groups.

“The mayor had expressed interest in having a portion of this survey include an opportunity for additional follow-up contact, so if you’re completing this survey and you wanted to be forwarded [information about] a public meeting, you could list it in your contact information,” Allen said.

If the data showed public interest in a YMCA, Allen said the town would then need to pay for a Triangle2 phone survey.

“Assuming that the mayor and council is interested in pursuing the YMCA, you would need to have a contractual relationship with Triangle2 to do a phone survey,” she said. “They would make sure that they got answers from a representative population of the town … understand, when you do a survey across the community you’re not going to get a 100-percent response rate – you might get 20 percent. The idea is, the phone survey taps into community members across all demographics.”

Allen said all of that could be done through Triangle2 for about $20,000-$25,000, but that was apparently not the mayor and council’s direction.

Mayor Gee Williams said any survey would need to include “input about what the needs are in the community.”

“I think we need to give people an opportunity to say, ‘here’s a list of things.’ Some may be recreational and some may be programs and services that are in need,” he said. “That’s where I think we’d need someone with experience in this kind of thing, so that we’re not missing the obvious.”

Based on council consent, Allen will develop a request for proposals for an initial survey and report back in March.

Allen said Tuesday there was apparently some discomfort with the closeness of Triangle2 and the YMCA. She said it was also her impression the council wanted to see a broader survey of community interest.

However, she said Triangle2 could be among the RFP respondents.