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Murky Year Ahead for Warminster Parks and Rec

The loss of the WREC Center and a revenue reduction in the 2013 budget has the Parks and Recreation Department staff working to do more with less.

It was a tough 2012 for Karen Whitney and the rest of Warminster's Parks and Recreation department, and 2013 does not look like it will be much easier.

The department has until February to vacate the offices based in the WREC Center and move into modular units that have been installed at Warminster Community Park. The change in scenery means a reduction in operation space from 40,000 sq. ft. to 2,800 sq. ft., according to Whitney.

Nonetheless, Whitney and her team are working to keep as many Parks and Rec programs as possible. Classroom activities will be conducted at the new office, with the library hosting some of the fitness and exercise programs. Whitney is also working with third party locations for more exercise space, such as Airborne Gymnastics. She is also talking with the Centennial School District to set up locations for the summer camps at one of the schools.

"We're just plugging away, doing the best we can with what we have," said Whitney.

The recently passed township budget for 2013 includes a .75 reduction in mills for the department, taking that $248,329 to help fund storm water management initiatives. Township manager Rich Manfredi stressed on multiple occasions that this decrease is only for 2013.

"Parks and recreation has been and continues to be an integral component in Warminster's quality of life," said Manfredi.

The department's woes began in 2010 when three paying tenants opted out of their leases and set up shop at the recently closed Leary Elementary. The loss of the businesses created a $180,000 hole in the department's budget that could not be overcome. Finally, in August 2012, the township decided to return the property, formally Hart Elementary, to the Centennial School District.

The township has spent the past few years attempting to work out an agreement with the school district that would remove reversionary interest clauses from the lease, but to no avail. Centennial officials inserted the clauses and deed restrictions on the property when it sold Hart Elementary to Warminster for $1 in 1988, Mary Eberle said in August.

"Those reversionary clauses completely hamstrung the township," said Eberle. She said the school district could simply take the property back whenever it wanted, a possibility that prevented the township from making any major renovations.

As Whitney works to maintain a sense of status quo with Parks and Rec, the township is looking at options to construct a new facility at Warminster Community Park. Valerie Piper, of Milligan and Company, will review a proposal at the Board of Supervisors' Jan. 17 meeting. If approved, the application will then be sent to Pennsylvania's Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP), a grant program that provides funds to regional projects that demonstrate potential for economic growth and the creation of jobs.

According to Piper, the state has set aside $1.7 million for the township, but certain criteria has to be met before it can be awarded. 

"The township has to submit a business plan to the RACP committee that describes the project and how it will create and retain jobs," Piper told the Warminster Board of Supervisors in September.

If that plan is accepted, the township must fill out a more detailed application for the funds. If that application is approved, Warminster will then have 365 days to start construction.

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