Blacksburg considers capital projects

BLACKSBURG – The new fitness room at the Blacksburg Community Center is thriving after its first year in operation, according to comments from Recreation Advisory Board Member Paul Smeal, given at the recent Town Council meeting.

Since the new fitness center opened in November, 2008, the Community Center has sold 804 center passes that generated $22,300 in revenue for the Town, Smeal said.

“Here’s an investment that you folks have made that’s really generating income back in to the budget,” Smeal told the Council.

The new fitness center is triple the size of the former one, with 23 pieces state-of-the-art equipment, including five new treadmills, two seated steppers, four new TVs, one new bike, free weights and 10 new Nautilus fitness machines, Woodway treadmills, and new recumbent bikes that exercise arms and legs.

Also at the Council meeting, Town Manager Marc Verniel made a presentation on upcoming Capital Improvement projects that will be underway in the next six years as part of the Town’s 2011-2015 Capital Improvement Program. The 52 recommended projects, which include improvements to infrastructure, roads, and equipment, will cost about $73 million, Verniel said. Some of the projects will be funded through grant money or alternative funding sources, he said.

The process began at the beginning of this year, when department heads were asked to submit Capital Improvement project ideas to the Town Manager’s Office, whose staff narrowed the submissions down, Verniel said. The proposed projects will be reviewed by Council and citizens before the final list is approved, he said.

Department heads submitted 83 proposed projects, which is less than the Town Manager’s office has received in previous years, Verniel said.

We encourage the department heads to not submit as many projects, obviously,” Verniel said. “We’re in recession, nationwide, worldwide, and we’re trying to be more frugal, so we’re taking a harder look at a lot of the projects we’re doing.”

Proposed projects include equipment replacements, bicycle markings on downtown roads, sewer improvements, and repaving part of the Huckleberry Trail, Verniel said.

“That pavement’s getting pretty rough,” Verniel said.

Finalization of construction documents for the Alexander Black House, which is set to become the Town Museum, is also included on the list of projects.

Once the documents are finalized, at least $1 million of the construction costs will have to be raised through donations before construction can begin, Verniel said.

It also includes a bonded $2.6 million project to begin work on the College Avenue Promenade, which would close off College Avenue to vehicles for a more pedestrian-friendly atmosphere.

Verniel said plans for the project are set for completion some time next year, with plans to apply for funding grants next fall.

“Hopefully, some grant money will help offset some of that cost to the Town,” Verniel said.

Council members are set to discuss the Capital Improvement Program in greater detail this month, Verniel said. The Planning Commission is scheduled to make its recommendation on the proposed list of projects Jan. 5, Verniel said.

Also at the Council Meeting, Town Finance Director Susan Kaiser accepted the Government Finance Officers Association Distinguished Budget Presentation Award.

This is the 18th consecutive year the Town has received the award.

Also at the meeting, businessman and former Virginia Tech football player Bill Ellenbogen presented a donation of $5,000 to help fund a gazebo to be built at the Blacksburg Tennis Center.

Ellenbogen said the gazebo is an example of the positive things that can happen when the public and private sectors work together.

“I think we’ve done some really good things working together, and I just hope that that cooperation can go on with this current council, and with the new council members,” Ellenbogen said.

Part of the funding for the gazebo also comes from the Town and an anonymous donor.