As reported by Kevin Lewis- WJLA ABC/7 news reporter: "Dispute brews over $5.2 Million reconstruction of Leisure World building in Maryland"

Dispute brews over $5.2 million reconstruction of Leisure World building in Maryland.mp4

Dispute brews over $5.2 million reconstruction of Leisure World building in Maryland

by Kevin Lewis/ABC7

Tuesday, August 1st 2017

Dispute brews over $5.2 million reconstruction of Leisure World building in Maryland (Kevin Lewis/ABC7)

ASPEN HILL, Md. (ABC7) — There is a roaring debate beyond the gates of Leisure World about the feasibility of constructing a modern $5.2 million administration building.

“It just sort of makes no sense to us," said Leisure World resident Sheryl Katzman who is leading a charge to dismantle construction plans. “I’d say 95 percent of the people we talk to are opposed to this. It's a fiduciary failure."

On Friday, Katzman and fellow dissenters hosted a town hall in the Crystal Ballroom located inside the community's main clubhouse. Despite torrential rainfall, more than 300 curious residents came to listen and ask questions about the pricey proposal.

“If I had false teeth, they would have fallen out, I couldn’t believe the turnout," said Leisure World resident Bob Ardike. “It really boils down to finding out what we’ve got before we race pell-mell into something that could be avoided.”

Ardike and Katzman contend that an engineering study should first be completed to see if the current administration building — constructed during the 1960s — could be renovated to better optimize space at a significantly reduced cost. Surplus dollars could then be used to update amenities such as the clubhouses, pools, and golf course, not to mention placed in a rainy day fund.

Ardike and Katzman also share environmental concerns, as the current administration building's demolition would result in trucks hauling tons of debris to regional landfills. The two further raise issue with noise pollution and the removal of dozens of mature canopy trees.

"Studies show the greenest building is the one that is already built. The woods, metals and glass are already in place," Ardike's wife suggested. “As of community of elders, we need to think big picture here.”

Phil Marks sits on the Executive Committee of the Leisure World Board of Directors. According to Marks, the vast majority of the 34-member board is in favor of demolition and construction. Marks explains that the current administration building is in a sad state of disrepair. The list of issues include mold, an antiquated HVAC system and inadequate workspace for a growing workforce at Leisure World.

Marks estimated that an engineering study would likely cost between $150,000 and $250,000 to complete. If those findings supported a renovation, Marks opined that the current administration building would need at least $500,000 in repairs and enhancements, not including workspace-related renovation costs. Such work would also negate a grandfather clause currently in effect, thus requiring building code upgrades to fire, mechanical, electrical and energy systems.

"It would be a poor use of money and time," Marks stated by telephone Tuesday. "People have had a substantial number of opportunities to make their opinions known."

The Leisure World "trust fund" would cover the entire $5.2 million project. The account is fueled by a two-percent transaction fee levied during the sale of all properties within the private community of 8,500 residents ages 55 and older. According to Marks, the money in that fund can only be used for capital improvement projects.

“The overwhelming response from the residents in Leisure World has been, 'Why hasn’t a study been done," Katzman added. “If they had the same philosophy with the White House, as an example, that building would have been torn down many years ago.”

The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission is scheduled to hold a hearing on the proposed demolition and construction in November. If plans are approved, the project is expected to be completed during the second half of 2020.

“I’m sure when people come here to look at property, they’re not going to say ‘Oh look at that administration building. That’s a sure reason for my moving in here.’ Yeah... I don’t think so," Katzman concluded with a clear look of facetiousness written across her face.

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