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Bay Oaks plan keeps gym in place

Current phase calls for adding community building

By Nathan Mayberg - Editor | Sep 10, 2021

The Bay Oaks gymnasium will not be replaced under the current plan being considered by Fort Myers Beach. / Photo by Nathan Mayberg

With plans at 60% complete, the planned renovations at Bay Oaks Recreational Campus have been scaled down with just one community building, also known as passive recreation, is now planned. However, the current cost estimates exceed the town’s budget of $5.5 million for the project, Town of Fort Myers Beach Manager Roger Hernstadt said.

Previous incarnations supported by the Bay Oaks Recreational Campus Advisory Board included proposals for an additional building, replacement of the gym, a new amphitheater and relocation of the baseball fields. A future additional building and relocation of the ball field is still listed under maps provided by the town though town staff is still reviewing the plans, Hernstadt said.

Under the current budget of $5.5 million, only one building could be built as the plans as they exist exceed the town’s budget, Hernstadt said. Hernstadt said construction costs have been climbing since the Bay Oaks Recreational Campus Advisory Board first took up proposals. The budget also includes improvements to the grounds and parking lot.

Hernstadt said the main gym could still be replaced further down the road in the future but is not part of the current phase of plans. He said he hopes the gym lasts a long time.

At a recent meeting of the Bay Oaks Recreational Campus Advisory Board, Town of Fort Myers Beach Public Works Director Chelsea O’Riley said other phases could be worked on in the future.

“We want to see this project get built and we don’t want to set it up for failure,” O’Riley told the board.

Bay Oaks Recreational Campus Advisory Board Chair Barbara Hill said she understood the budget has been set for this phase but that “with the property values escalating on the island such as it is, our millage rate should be adjusted accordingly so that our amenity that we provide to the community through property tax revenue can accommodate this community center.”

The town’s millage rate is set to increase from .95 to .99 per thousand dollars of assessed property value this year.

Board Chair Betty Simpson said “things have changed” over the past year and “we just have to adjust.”

Speaking to the rising construction costs of doing business since the pandemic, O’Riley said the $650,000 original cost estimate for work at Bayside Park is now $1.5 million after one bid.

“It’s a challenge all the way around,” O’Riley said. “We want to bring about a project that is viable.”

“The main thing is to meet the programming need that we can’t meet at our current site,” said Alison Geisen, the town’s director of culture, parks and recreation.

Geisen said the multi-purpose rooms in the new community building would allow for passive recreation such as yoga, pilates, after-school programs, youth activities, a small game room, luncheon room, movie or lecture room, restrooms, sound system and cooking station.

“We have a huge multi-purpose room in the middle that can hold bridge,” Geisen said. The room can hold 150-200 people, she said.

“It would be really great to support that for our community,” Geisen said. The existing gym would continue to be used for the active recreation facility – basketball, volleyball, weight room and other activities. The gym offices would remain there.

Among the other aspects of the recreational campus that have been discussed has been whether the town’s baseball and soccer field would under go alterations. Under the current plans, the soccer field would be within the larger baseball field as it is today, according to O’Riley and Geisen. Some board members want the soccer field to be independent of the baseball field.

To get to this point, the town had to reach an agreement with the Lee County Schools District and Lee County Government over property lines, as the school and county own part of the property that encompasses the Bay Oaks campus. That agreement is still being finalized, which would allow town residents to utilize the school playground on weekends. The town acquired a small lot near the walkthrough from Estero Boulevard.

Hill wanted to know if the community building will have same height as the library and suggested the town consider using solar power for the new building. “I think solar is far more efficient,” Hill said.

O’Riley said she could look into the costs of solar power.

Hill said the Beach Elementary School entrance and parking lot which neighbors the Bay Oaks campus “is so unwelcoming with the gate and chain-link fence but we want Bay Oaks to be more inviting.”

O’Riley said the town will try to preserve some trees on the Bay Oaks campus. Some invasive trees will be removed on the Bay Oaks property.

The board voted unanimously in support of the current plans.

The next step would be for town staff to review the plans at 90% complete. There is no timetable as to when that will be. The Town of Fort Myers Beach Council would ultimately have to approve bidding out the project and awarding a construction contract.