Municipal complex debated at Spring Garden Twp. meeting

Christopher Dornblaser
  • More than 100 people showed up at the Victory Fire Co. fire hall to discuss the Spring Garden Township municipal campus.
  • Many disagreed with the plan and asked for a town hall meeting.
  • The next meeting is April 12.

On Wednesday evening, more than 100 citizens filled the Victory Fire Co. Fire Hall for the Spring Garden Township Board of Commissioners meeting.

The biggest topic, and the reason for such a turnout, was the planned municipal complex, which took up much of the discussion during the nearly three-hour meeting.

Shawn Schlenz speaks during a Spring Garden Township Board of Commissioners meeting on March 8, 2017. There is currently a lively debate going on in the township about the need for a new, combined municipal complex.

The plans: Currently, there is a plan to develop a municipal complex at the former United Dye Works property, a 56-acre parcel at 1799 Mount Rose Ave. that the township owns.

In September, township officials contracted an architectural firm to design a municipal complex that would consolidate its administration, police and recreation services in one location.

A preliminary design presentation showed that the calculated millage for the campus with a gymnasium is 1.132 mills, or 0.880 mills without a gymnasium, according to a FAQ about the complex.

The cost to an average homeowner of a property valued at $171,000 would be an additional $194 per year, or 53 cents a day, if the gymnasium is included in the plan, according to the township website. Without the gym, it would cost an additional $151 per year, or 41 cents a day.

Debate: On Wednesday, several residents took to the microphone at the meeting to express their dissatisfaction with the proposal. The meeting venue was changed from the municipal building at 340 Tri Hill Road to the fire company to accommodate the larger crowd.

Sean Clark, an organizer of Friends of Spring Garden Township, an activist organization, spoke on behalf of the 918 people who signed a petition against the complex. He said they signed the petitions within four weeks.

He read numerous comments from those who signed the petition, including:

"I feel this is a stupid thing."

"We do not need escalating property taxes."

"I do not agree with this plan; it is a burden on the residents."

"Totally unnecessary."

One comment in particular grabbed the attention of the audience: "Let the commissioners pay this out of their pockets."

More than 100 people showed up at the Victory Fire Co. Fire Hall for a Spring Garden Township Board of Commissioners meeting on March 8, 2017. Photo by Christopher Dornblaser.

Resident Shawn Schlenz took issue with the complex as well, saying some residents couldn't afford the additional millage. He also asked the commissioners how many people they had talked to about the complex.

"I want a number, because we have 918," he said.

Schlenz said he wants officials to build something more fiscally responsible.

"We're not opposed to doing something; we're opposed to something so drastic," he said.

Afterward, Clark said the number of signatures had jumped to 944, with the increase coming from some who attended the meeting that night.

Spring Garden Township designing new complex

In favor: While many spoke out against the complex, some spoke in favor of it.

David Meckley was one of those few.

Meckley said that looking long-term, improving township facilities would be beneficial.

"I believe that the proposed complex makes sense," he said.

He urged commissioners to finalize plans.

"Is it expensive? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes," he said.

Meckley's comments were not met positively by the crowd.

Board: Township manager Gregory Maust addressed the room, saying the plan fulfills two goals set forth when the concept for the complex was originally proposed in 1999. He said the goals are to provide recreation opportunities and consolidate municipal services.

"At this point in time, the elected board has chosen to stay on course," Maust said.

Maust also said there were three public information hearings held on the topic of a municipal complex in the past few years, most recently one in 2013.

Maust provided a status update on the plan, saying it was on track to be completed by July.

During the meeting, board vice president Thomas Warman motioned to halt the plans, but the motion was not seconded and it died.

Since many people requested a town hall meeting, board president Eric Lehmayer said someone on the board could motion to hold a town hall, but no one did so. Lehmayer said if a town hall was held, there was no guarantee that answers to all of the questions would be available that day.

Afterward, Lehmayer said he thinks a motion for holding a town hall on the complex would be best voted on at April's meeting, when all five commissioners will be in attendance, so a tie could be avoided.

Commissioner Matthew Shorb was absent from Wednesday's meeting.

Lehmayer said many of the residents who spoke were "passionate."

"I hear their concerns, and I consider both sides," he said.

The next board meeting is scheduled for April 12 at the township municipal building.

The preliminary designs for the complex can be found here.

— Reach Christopher Dornblaser at or on Twitter at @YDDornblaser.