By Ann Marie Shambaugh
Zionsville officials are working on a plan that they hope will solve relocation problems for two town entities and save money at the same time.
The Zionsville Town Council is expected to vote Monday on a plan to pay half of the cost to construct a new home for the Zion Nature Center, which could serve as a temporary town hall if needed. The estimated 5,000-square-foot building is proposed on town land near Heritage Trail Park on S 875 E just south of E 400 S.
The proposed plan calls for the town to pay $300,000 from its cumulative capital development fund and for the other $300,000 to come from the parks and recreation department’s capital fund. Mayor Jeff Papa said the parks board has already allocated $250,000 for relocation of the nature center and would only need to approve an additional $50,000 to move the project forward.
The current town hall is housed in a 45-year old former church building that was nearly condemned about two years ago. Officials are primarily considering two options to deal with problems stemming from the aging structure: make major renovations or build a new town hall just north of the old one.
If a new town hall is built, officials plan to use Tax Increment Financing funds generated from new retail that would be built on the site of the current town hall to help pay for it. That means city employees would need to find a new home in the meantime, and the town’s lack of a relocation space has already led to lost deals with companies looking to build on the site immediately.
“We’ve lost a deal or two because we need to move out right away,” Zionsville Mayor Jeff Papa said. “We have nowhere to go.”
Even if the town elects to renovate its current building, Papa said a backup site is needed in case the deteriorating building is condemned first. The town considered renting temporary pods and setting them up at Zionsville Community High School, but with a price tag of $300,000 or more and potential disruptions to students, officials decided this was not an ideal solution.
Meanwhile, Zionsville Community Schools officials have told town officials that the building currently housing the Zion Nature Center – which is owned by ZCS – will one day likely be needed for administration or other purposes as the district continues to grow. Earlier this year the town considered purchasing a home in the nearby Sugarbush neighborhood to temporarily house the nature center, but bringing it to ADA compliance and making other changes could cost the Parks Board an estimated $400,000, Papa said, and much of it would need to be undone if the town decided to sell the house later.
Papa said building a new home for the nature center is expected to cost around $600,000, and with the town and Parks Board splitting the cost, both entities would end up saving money. If the project is approved, Papa is hoping that much of the prep work can be done before winter with construction beginning “as soon as it thaws.”
“We’ll move as quickly as we can, because we’d want to be able to let the schools know the plan for the current site,” he said. “And the sooner we have an emergency backup for town hall, the better.”