What to Do With the Valley Court Community Center?

Friday, June 14, 2019, 8:42 am
By: 
Dan Totzkay

Though the Valley Court Community Center (above) is in need of repair and physical improvements, building support for such a project is not high on the City Council’s to-do list.

Given the estimated cost of repairs and the structural state of the building – as well as Council’s plans for possible sale or development of the property in the future – it does not appear that money will be spent on major repairs or renovations in the near future.

Lansing-based architecture firm Mayotte Group Architects completed an assessment of indoor and outdoor improvements that should be made to the Community Center building.

Meanwhile, City staff prepared an estimate for what the property might be worth and what it would cost to replace the roof and current mechanical equipment.

Making the recommended renovations to the Valley Court Community Center, including addressing accessibility concerns, would cost an estimated $368,250.

What Needs to Be Improved?

Among Mayotte’s recommended improvements are cleaning and repainting many outdoor surfaces, replacing gutters, removing debris from the roof, replacing carpeting and tile in most indoor spaces, installing new and consistent ceiling tiles, and fixing walls and paint throughout.

Mayotte also included an assessment of the building’s accessibility in terms of requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This found a number of ADA noncompliant spaces and equipment, including parking spaces that are too steep, coat hooks and sinks that are not accessible, and safety or assisted-door hardware that is either inadequate or not safe.

Making the indoor and outdoor repairs suggested by Mayotte would cost the City $205,250. The additional fixes needed to be ADA accessible would cost the City another $32,000.

On top of these changes, City staff estimated $131,000 to improve a number of pieces of mechanical equipment and a new roof for the building.

What Does Council and the City Think?

Council members and City staff largely believe it is either not financially responsible or necessary to make improvements to the Valley Court Community Center, above and beyond regular maintenance and as-needed repairs that may arise.

On Tuesday, East Lansing Parks and Recreation Director Tim McCaffrey told Council that there are likely several years before major reinvestment in the building is required.

Concern also focused on ensuring Helping Hands Respite Care, which is housed in the Community Center, is not forced out before they have had time to relocate.

Council member Aaron Stephens, who is also a member of Helping Hands’ Board of Directors, said Tuesday that the organization not only knows their time in the building is sure to come to an end soon, but also believes they need a facility that is better suited to their and their clients’ needs.

Stephens wants to make sure Helping Hands and their relocation is considered upfront with any considerations made on the property and that they do not want to “take the rug out” from under the organization.

Council member Shanna Draheim described spending money on repairs to the building as “sinking money in the property” and not doing Helping Hands justice. She says it would be better to use money and energy to support Helping Hands and their transition out of the building.

Draheim said that she does not thinking keeping the building long term is financially responsible. She suggested eventually either selling or leasing out the land for redevelopment.

Mayor Mark Meadows said he is “not so keen on selling the property,” but envisions redevelopment with something that has community use on the ground level and also takes advantage of the “air space” above the building. The building sits downhill from Oakhill Avenue.

According to McCaffrey, Helping Hands’ lease expires at the end of September 2019, with the City lately providing one-year leases to the organization. He said he would return in July with his recommendation regarding that.

Draheim said she wants to see something like another 12 or 15 months’ lease for the organization, with Meadows suggesting a two-year timeframe for any project on that property.

Helping Hands Executive Director Yvonne Fleener and Board of Directors member Lori Strom spoke to Council, largely thanking them for acknowledging the work Helping Hands does in and for the community, as well as for expressing willingness to help the organization find a better-suited space prior to redeveloping the Community Center.

In Tuesday’s discussion, Meadows referred to the building as being “downtown,” although it was originally platted in the Oakwood Neighborhood.

As ELi previously reported, Council has instructed City staff to draft an ordinance that removes Valley Court Park and properties on Evergreen Avenue owned by the Downtown Development Authority from the Oakwood Historic District.

If the Park is removed from the Historic District, Council will have an easier time redeveloping the Valley Court Community Center and the substation in the park. If the park remains in the Historic District, exterior changes to or demolition of the Community Center building would require going through East Lansing’s Historic District Commission. (Read more on that here.)

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