A months-long effort by upper valley residents to open the Mosquito Lake School building as a community center could be realized soon.
A memorandum of understanding is in the works between the Haines Borough and the non-profit Friends of Mosquito Lake School and Community Center. But the resignation of the borough employee who drafted the agreement could slow down that process.
“Well it feels like the effort that the group has put into [this] is finally bringing to fruition,” said Dana Hallett, one of the steering committee members for Friends of Mosquito Lake.
The community’s school closed last year because of low enrollment. The Haines Borough owns the building, and it was maintained at minimum expense – not allowing for any community use. Borough Manager Dave Sosa proposed classifying the facility for sale.
Upper valley residents did not want that to happen. They organized to reopen the building as a community center. And they had their first victory in January, when Sosa withdrew his request to classify the building for sale, pending review in six months.
Now it’s getting close to that six-month deadline, and things look hopeful for Mosquito Lake residents.
“We’re making progress,” Sosa said. “Neither side looks at this agreement as the end, because it’s the beginning of something.”
Sosa has in front of him the 11-page draft agreement between the Borough and Friends of Mosquito Lake. The MOU allows for the school building to be open on an average of two days per week. It could be used for meetings, events, and as an emergency shelter.
In the first year, the borough would pay $30,000 to maintain and operate the building. The current plan is for the borough to gradually lower the amount it pays, to a cap of $25,000 in the third year of the agreement.
Friends of Mosquito Lake has to contribute as well. The estimated cost for them is $2,000 in the first year, increasing to $7,000 in year three. That revenue could come from user fees or fundraisers. Hallett says he thinks it’s feasible.
“If we don’t get there, we’ll get real close,” he said.
Friends of Mosquito Lake also has to come up with operating procedures and a business plan before the building can open.
“So there are steps to go before we can say, ‘open for business,'” Sosa said.
Another step is figuring out what to do now that the borough employee who was tasked with this project is no longer here. On the MOU, the borough ‘point-of-contact’ is still listed as Bill Mandeville, the former community and economic development director. Mandeville resigned earlier this month.
Hallett says he was looking forward to working with Mandeville on standard operating procedures for the community center.
“It’s unfortunate that Bill has resigned and that he’s left because I guess by now we would’ve been doing that,” Hallett said. “But I think that’s the next step — is working with the borough and hammering out the specifics of how we’re gonna operate.”
Sosa says, for now, he’ll be the point of contact on the Mosquito Lake agreement. He says hiring another community and economic development director is an option, but that decision has not been made yet. Sosa says projects Mandeville was working on that need attention now will be ‘shuffled around’ to other borough staff.
“I’ll be sitting down with staff and I’ll be taking a look at how do we move forward,” Sosa said.
Before Mandeville resigned, he envisioned bigger plans for Mosquito Lake. He had submitted a grant proposal to the USDA to help with an agricultural business initiative in Mosquito Lake. Whether that project will go forward is up in the air after Mandeville’s resignation.
When the community center opens, Hallett hopes it will be used for family-focused events. That’s because the goal for both the non-profit and the borough is to reopen the building as a school.
“We want to preserve this facility…so that when we get the number of students that would qualify to reopen this facility as a school, that it’s going to remain there as a school,” Hallett said. “So this agreement and our push for this community center is going to serve as a bridge to that end.”