LEE — Supporters of a multimillion dollar community center are headed back to the drawing board after their project was soundly rejected at Thursday’s annual town meeting.
Following very little debate, town meeting representatives voted 44-2 against borrowing $12.5 million to build a center with two regulation basketball courts, community room, wellness center, office space and locker rooms.
The lack of discussion wasn’t surprising as the representatives had thoroughly vetted the proposal at a meeting three weeks ago to review the 14 articles on the town meeting warrant.
The Lee Youth Commission proposed the project after three years of discussion, several studies and resident surveys that indicated townspeople wanted a center.
Town representative David Carrington summed up the opposition’s reasons for the no vote.
“The project is too expensive,” he said. “I don’t want to see another $400 to $500 on the tax bill and it’s in a poor location.”
Actually, when the commission crunched the numbers, they determined the project would add $354 to the average single-family property tax bill.
The Lee Finance Committee recommended town meeting vote against the project, calling it too costly at this time, committee Chair Nick Arienti had said.
A budget of more than $900,000 would be needed by Year Five to operate the facility, the committee estimated.
Revenue would come from primarily membership fees, with half the budget funded by a taxpayer subsidy.
Some residents who supported the project balked at its proposed location, 171 acres of open space on Stockbridge Road on the outskirts of town.
They felt it should be more centrally located.
Commission Chair Kathy Hall says her board plans to address that issue, as they will not give up on the project.
“There will be a next step. We’ll check what properties near town are available, but we don’t have the money to buy any if they are privately owned,” she told The Eagle after the meeting. “People want a community center.”
The remaining money articles passed, most unanimously, with little or no discussion.
The overall budget of $24.6 million passed, an increase of $756,158, or 3.2 percent, over the current spending plan of nearly $23.9 million.
A 3.9 percent increase in spending in the Lee Public schools accounted for about half the jump in the overall budget.
Representatives approved a total of $835,410 in capital projects and equipment purchases. Atop the list of 15 items was $220,000 to buy either one large or two smaller trucks for plowing and sanding roads during the winter.
The next highest expense was $175,000 to replace the bleachers in the Lee Middle and High School gymnasium.
Original equipment when the school was built in the mid-1960s, and the wooden bleachers have been deemed unsafe.
Among the non-money articles approved included a revision of the towns bylaws dealing with political signs.
The Planning Board drew up the changes they say gives people more leeway to place signs on private property that express an opinion on cultural, societal, religious or political topic.
The revision was prompted by the sudden removal last year of “No PCB Dump” and other signs by the former building commissioner.
The only other article rejected by the meeting was a citizens petition to create an act establishing the process for the recall of an elected municipal official. The vote was 21 against, 17 for and seven abstentions.