January 25, 2022

How will Westwood clubhouse project move ‘fore’-ward?

City presented options to park board recommending bond referendum

If city council wants to move forward with the construction of a new clubhouse at Westwood Golf Course, the Newton Park Board last month recommended the best way to move forward would be to put the decision to a public vote by bond referendum, which would also include other park upgrades and improvements.

During the Nov. 17 park board meeting, members were presented four options the city could take to construct the new clubhouse, assuming the project would cost roughly $1 million. Brian Laube, director of community services, informed the board that city council named the clubhouse project as its highest priority.

Laube proposed the following options:

• Option No. 1: Create an Urban Renewal Area with Jasper County’s approval. The area would include the Westwood location, which technically resides outside city limits. Staff would have to bond for the improvements in their normal manner. However, it does not appear the board of supervisors will approve such action.

• Option No. 2: Raise at least $300,001 in private funds and then bond for the remaining $699,999. Laube said this option is subject to the reverse referendum process if citizens want to stop this project.

• Option No. 3: Use on-hand city funds to raise the first $300,001 and then bond the remaining $699,999. Again, Laube noted this option is subject to the reverse referendum process, but it is likely not preferred due to appearances of trying to work around the rules.

• Option No. 4: Propose bond referendum in 2022, which would require city council action to initiate. The ballot issue would include three park projects included by council, including the Westwood clubhouse improvements, upgrades to Maytag Pool and a miscellaneous third project.

Laube said there does seem to be support for private fundraising. But, ultimately, the park board felt Option No. 4 was the best choice. Minutes from the park board meeting stated the bond referendum election could be held on March 1, June 7, Sept. 13 or Nov. 8, but these dates still needed to be verified.

Laube said the bond referendum’s third project could be used for hike and bike trail improvements, pickleball courts, an inclusive playground or Sunset Park upgrades, among others. Park board members universally agreed the bond referendum was likely the best choice, even with the third project up in the air.

Park board member Bryce Heitman noted that Sunset Park was a recent priority of the park board and should be considered for the third project.

When staff eventually schedule a discussion with council members about the park bond referendum during a public meeting, elected officials could take action on the item as soon as the following public meeting. Laube said at that time a private group would then work to secure funds and promote the ballot issue.

The maximum bonding amount is about $1.6 million, but Laube said any potential private donations could increase the available amount. However, the purpose of the referendum must be spelled out ahead of the vote. Laube said staff is still working on updated cost estimates for projects.

If the bond referendum is placed on a March 2022 ballot and fails to receive enough votes, Laube noted more would be known about private donations by then, which should help decide the direction staff could pursue.

The city council and park board have been searching for a way to improve the clubhouse at Westwood for a number of years.

In October, Newton News reported the city council overwhelmingly voted in favor of constructing new clubhouse at the municipal golf course. When the 2021-2023 goals were approved, Newton City Administrator Matt Muckler told Newton News he would ask city staff to compile a list of options for elected officials.

Laube has done exactly that by previewing those options to Newton Park Board prior to city action. Although an official recommendation from the park board does carry weight, it is ultimately up to council members to decide which option they feel is best for the city.

The park board voted 4-0 to recommend city council move forward with the clubhouse project by using a bond referendum as soon as possible.

Staff intended to propose a park bond referendum discussion item for the Dec. 6 council agenda, but as of press time Sunday no such item has been included.

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or cbraunschweig@newtondailynews.com

Christopher Braunschweig

Reporter with a strong penchant for community journalism.