Price tag was never a factor when considering a new Beaver Meadow clubhouse

Beaver Meadow Golf Course opens today for the season.

Beaver Meadow Golf Course opens today for the season. GEOFF FORESTER

One of the signs that started popping up around Concord supporting Beaver Meadow Golf Course last year.

One of the signs that started popping up around Concord supporting Beaver Meadow Golf Course last year. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

The outside of the Beaver Meadow Golf clubhouse on Thursday, June 22, 2023.

The outside of the Beaver Meadow Golf clubhouse on Thursday, June 22, 2023.

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Monitor staff

Published: 11-20-2023 6:19 PM

Cost was never a focus for the committee responsible for reviewing designs and gathering public input about future plans for the clubhouse at the city-owned Beaver Meadow Golf Course.

“The building committee was purely involved in coming up with the concept for it and what the community was looking for a new building to deliver as far as accessibility, services, space,” said at-large city councilor and committee chair Nathan Fennessy. “We never had a conversation about cost.”

The eight-person committee recommended the City Council tear down the existing clubhouse and build a new structure. The total cost is expected to be about $10.8 million without any unforeseen increases.

In November 2021, a previous committee recommended a total rebuild of the space after the city received an estimate of $914,000 for renovations to the 4,518-square-foot clubhouse. Constructing a new building became the sole focus of this second committee since its work began earlier this year.

Now, in the waning days of the sitting council, the city is moving ahead with a public hearing and potential vote in December on a bond to pay for a complete rebuild, despite higher-than-anticipated costs, recent changes to the design and growing public pushback.

This summer, Concord city officials estimated the cost of the new clubhouse to be $4.9 million. Assurances were made that taxpayers would not have to pay for the project because increased revenue for the golf course – including a proposed lease with the New Hampshire Golf Association to rent the third floor of the building for office space – would cover the costs.

This month, that $4.9 million placeholder turned into a $10.8 million estimated cost, with $10.3 million to be borrowed in the form of a taxpayer-funded bond. The estimated tax burden for Concord residents ranges between $39 a year and $6 in the last year of the bond for a home worth $300,000.

The options

Throughout the process of this project, the city has gone through multiple phases.

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It began four years ago when the city wanted to replace the windows at the clubhouse, but the estimate turned out to be $200,000 – double what was expected.

In 2020, the mayor appointed a committee to investigate the costs and benefits of renovation over a new structure. This group received the $914,000 estimate for renovations from H.L. Turner Group, the architectural firm the city has partnered with on a number of projects. The work would have replaced the windows and doors, fixed the sewer lines, repaved the parking lot and renovated the bathrooms. The committee recommended building a new facility and spending no money on the current structure.

With little debate from the City Council about the pros and cons of renovation versus building new, the latest golf course committee was established by Mayor Jim Bouley in December 2022.

As the current ad hoc committee began its work, a plan for a new clubhouse came into focus. The first proposal, as discussed at an August public hearing, laid out a three-story building. The basement, 5,172 square feet of space, would be used for general storage, bathrooms and a spot for ski and skate storage. The main floor, 10,144 square feet, included four golf simulators (up from the current two), the pro shop, an expanded restaurant and kitchen and two dining rooms in addition to outdoor seating. Finally, 3,561 square feet were mapped out for the top level, most of it space for the golf association offices and conference rooms.

However, the New Hampshire Golf Association backed away from the project in September, forcing a substantial change in plans. NHGA Executive Director Matt Schmidt said his organization was hoping to find a space to move into early in 2024, and this project would not have been completed in time.

The scaled-back proposal landed before the committee on Oct. 11 and included 15,000 square feet of space on a single floor. It featured a dining room, two event rooms, an expanded kitchen, ski and skate storage, a conference room, restrooms, the pro shop and four golf simulators. The committee then recommended this plan to the City Council.

Rising costs

The estimated cost of the building itself is roughly $5.9 million, about 20% higher than the original placeholder, according to a Nov. 3 memo Brian LeBrun, the city’s deputy city manager for finance. The project would require an additional $4.4 million in spending for the parking lot construction, engineering costs, golf simulators and several other expenses. Even more will be spent if the council chooses to add on a geothermal system or decides to use primarily American-made materials.

LeBrun explained how his initial $4.9 million estimation undershot the actual price tag by so much.

“I figured 10,000 square feet and I used $450 per square foot, and that came out to the $4.5 million,” he said on Monday. “And then we added the engineering and design costs onto that, and that’s how we came up with the $4.9 million overall. It wasn’t completely scientific, but I just didn’t know what it was going to be.”

He reiterated the simplicity of his process in an interview with the Monitor.

“I was thinking this is a placeholder for everything; I don’t know what it’s going to be,” LeBrun said. “I could’ve put a placeholder in for $20 million, I could’ve put it in for $15 million, I could’ve put it in for $2 million. That’s the number I picked. There was no more magic to it than that.”

Who pays?

Taxpayers will be on the hook to pay for the bond unless Beaver Meadow begins taking in significantly larger sums of money than the city expects.

In June, Ward Three Councilor Jennifer Kretovic – who’s also been a member at Beaver Meadow for about 25 years – insisted that taxpayer money would not be used to fund the new clubhouse.

“The city taxpayers are actually not funding this,” she said. “It is self-funding.”

The city’s own figures suggest otherwise.

From fiscal years 2014 to 2019, Beaver Meadow lost an average of about $5,000 per year. While it did turn a profit of over $300,000 in fiscal year 2022 and about $160,000 in 2023, there’s no guarantee that will continue into the future. In fact, the city is anticipating net losses in fiscal years 2025 through 2029, though LeBrun noted that the city operates pretty conservatively when it comes to budget predictions.

Kretovic acknowledged in a follow-up conversation last week that taxpayer money could be used for the project, but they won’t know for sure how much revenue the golf course will be bringing in to help offset the costs.

Even if the golf course brought in $100,000 a year, it would take 100 years to pay off the clubhouse bond, not including interest.

That’s why LeBrun’s memo to the mayor and City Council outlined the tax impact on residents to support the bond payment.

“It’s always been in the discussions that we’ve had that in order to do something here, there would have to be some support from taxpayer funds in order to have a major improvement over here,” LeBrun said.

The memo doesn’t include any anticipated contributions from the golf fund. LeBrun said that will be part of his presentation to the council during the Dec. 11 public hearing.

Who is it for?

At the building committee’s public hearing in August, one resident questioned the merits of tax dollars funding the project given they didn’t golf or cross country ski.

Fennessy noted three benefits in response to the concern: a larger restaurant facility, conference room space and use of the building as a voting location for the ward.

“We’re certainly trying to include aspects for everybody, because one of the things that we’ve heard from the councilor sitting next to me (Kretovic) is the lack of community spaces up in this end of Concord,” he added. “We’re trying to do that with the proposed design.”

The existing Citywide Community Center that was opened five years ago sits six miles away on Canterbury Road. Recent voting was held at the Beaver Meadow Elementary School down the street.

The golf course reported an estimated 415 season memberships in 2023, though not all members are necessarily residents of Concord. Golf members aren’t the only users of the space – Beaver Meadow runs golf camps for youths, has various outings and social events and is used for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter.

A lame-duck council

At last week’s City Council meeting, Bouley pushed back on any argument that this project was being rushed through, making the case that discussions on the clubhouse date back to 2019.

But the procedures followed throughout the course of the last year in particular to accelerate the project are notable.

City Council rules state that council members must have 15 days to review nominees for consideration to be placed on committees. Last Dec. 1, however, when Bouley submitted the proposal for the creation of the ad hoc committee, he asked for council rules to be suspended to confirm the nominees ahead of the next City Council meeting on Dec. 12.

And just a week after LeBrun received the anticipated $10.3 million cost for the project that was made public for the first time, the council voted down a motion from Ward Five Councilor Stacey Brown to postpone the Dec. 11 public hearing to provide the community more time to digest the updated plans.

Both Brown and outgoing Ward 10 Councilor Zandra Rice Hawkins noted the far more rigorous public forum procedures that previous city projects have followed.

The current timeline feels particularly rushed, Rice Hawkins explained, because it is the last month for the current council. The clubhouse debate was part of this November’s elections, and several new councilors noted concerns about the clubhouse during their campaigns.

In the leadup to the Nov. 7 elections, Kretovic and other candidates circulated fliers that said “My vote is for the Beav!” and listed candidates for City Council and mayor who supported the clubhouse project. The flier doesn’t explicitly highlight the project, but asking residents to consider a candidate’s support for Beaver Meadow Golf Course when casting their ballots suggests the clubhouse could’ve been an issue for the next council to consider.

“We are talking about a very large expenditure, the largest out-of-budget expenditure that we are looking at,” Rice Hawkins said at last week’s meeting. “I would ask those who care about public safety, affordable housing, other priorities in our city, the new middle school we have to construct, to also apply that same due diligence here. Let’s go back to the public. Let’s have the committee look at this again. This is a doubling of costs. We’re just getting this information.”

Bouley and Fennessy said that December was a perfectly reasonable time frame under which to hold the public hearing.

“Providing notice of this, this month, with all the information and the costs, I think December is the time to have a good public hearing,” Fennessy said at Monday’s meeting. “We can act on it, we can not act on it, but I don’t know why we would push it off indefinitely when we can have the opportunity to have that public hearing in December.”