A referendum question on the April 2 ballot asking city of Brodhead residents to OK borrowing to fund a new senior/community center won’t mean much now that a state grant that was vital to the project has been rescinded.
The state withdrew a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant awarded last year for the project because the city’s project plans showed “significant deviations” from the original project, a state official said.
On Tuesday, Brodhead Mayor Doug Pinnow said the city got word in a letter Thursday from the state’s Division of Energy, Housing, and Community Resources rescinding the grant it had awarded the city in August 2018.
Pinnow called the decision “frustrating” given that the city organized a referendum asking voters to allow the city to borrow up to $500,000 to match the state grant for construction of a senior/community center.
Pinnow said the city learned the grant was rescinded too late to alter the referendum question. He said the city council approved the referendum question for the ballot in January after city officials checked with state officials on the language of the question.
Word the grant was being rescinded didn’t come until weeks later.
The city can apply for the senior center grant again, but the state’s decision effectively nullifies the question on the spring election ballot, Pinnow said.
Pinnow said city officials have suspended a fundraising effort to cover part of the project’s $1.4 million price tag, and plans for the senior center are now on hold.
“We’ve stopped everything at this point, because we don’t have the grant,” Pinnow said.
Pinnow said the council won’t have a detailed discussion about the senior center project or the implications of having a referendum question on the ballot that’s essentially dead.
In the state’s letter to Brodhead officials obtained by The Gazette, David J. Pawlisch, the director of the state Bureau of Community Development, said the agency was rescinding the block grant because the state found the city had significantly scaled down its plans for the senior center.
Pawlisch said the city’s application identified needs and presented a plan for a “two-story facility with 10,000 square feet to serve meals and other needs for 400 seniors” and described its current, 890-square-foot senior center as “inadequate.”
But Pawlisch wrote that the city later submitted a new proposal with “significant deviations”—a smaller facility of 3,600 square feet “reserved for exclusive use” by seniors with a price tag of up to $1.25 million. He wrote that plans submitted by the city’s grant writer on Feb. 9 showed about “1,200 to 1,600 square feet of space eligible for use by seniors—“much less” space than the 10,000 square feet the city previously said it needed.
Pinnow said the city told grant officials in August 2018 that residents were already against the city using the former fitness center building at 708 23rd St. as the location for a new senior center.
The city had sought to buy and renovate the former fitness center and initially presented the building to the state as the proposed senior center location.
Pinnow said the city changed course and drew up plans for a 6,000-square-foot senior/community center that would be built on one of two potential sites. Part of the new facility, Pinnow said, would have “met grant requirements,” and another space would have accommodated event space for up to 300 seniors or other residents.
The council OK’d the new plan earlier this year.
Pinnow acknowledged the new plan was for a “considerably smaller” building than first proposed, but he added the grant agency “knew that last August” and that it never indicated until last week that a new plan would affect the grant’s status.
“We told them we were going from an existing building to a new building to appease the public because there was such a backlash against us getting the existing building and renovating it,” the mayor said.