The grant totals $60,000 with no matching requirement, officials have said, and would cover the cost of constructing a handicap accessible ramp from the parking lot to the building - but not other improvements, such as the installation of bathrooms, that have been discussed by the council.
But with potential structural flaws in the building, the council has remained hesitant in its acceptance of the grant, pushing for a more elaborate plan on the future of the building before considering a resolution of approval.
“I think it would be prudent to pass on this,” Councilman Tom Riche said of the grant last Wednesday, terming the proposed project a “ramp to nowhere” until an architectural plan laying out the feasible uses of the building and the costs of completion is in the council’s hands.
Acting Village Manager Heather Mailander and Chris Rutishauser, the municipal engineer, have proposed an $8,000 architectural study of the building, which officials said has leaks in the roof and other possible structural flaws. The cost, which Rutishauser said was a rough estimate, would come out of the village’s open space fund.
Riche, the council’s liaison to the open space committee, said that fund is dwindling and will be in the red by 2015.
“Really, right now it’s not usable for anything,” said Councilwoman Bernadette Walsh, questioning whether the upgrades were the “best use of the money.”
If the building was determined to be viable and the grant accepted, another grant would need to be pursued for restrooms, said Janet Fricke, assistant to the village manager.
Speaking before the council, Assistant Parks and Recreation Director Nancy Bigos tried to underscore the “consistent, well thought out process” that has gone into the department’s development of village parks.
“The necessity of restrooms and shelter [at Habernickel] are highest on the list for me as a professional,” she said, citing safety issues with no nearby shelter at the park, which sits distant from other municipal buildings.
Mayor Paul Aronsohn, expressing general agreement with the department’s “vision” for Habernickel, suggested that a feasibility study was the “logical first step,” and that the council could revisit the grant after receiving more information on the building and recreation department’s plans.
Deputy Mayor Albert Pucciarelli offered that if the council moves forward with such a study, it should provide specific information on what the barn could handle architecturally, and not just a broad determination of whether the building is structurally viable. As it stands right now, he said, the plan remains “somewhat vague.”
Habernickel was originally purchased in 2004 for roughly $7.4 million, and saw significant improvements leading up to its opening for recreation a year ago. Bigos said that the upgrade of the barn was the last foreseeable step to meet safety standards for park patrons.
Fricke said that the council had “a couple of months” to make a decision on accepting the grant. The council will likely take up the issue again next month.