Whether it’s a relaxing art class, a friendly game of Mahjong or an all-out pickleball match, West University Place residents engage in a variety of weekly activities at the city’s senior center.

Nancy Speich, a longtime West U senior resident and avid pickleball enthusiast, said she’s excited for what the future holds as the city makes progress on its Facility Master Plan, including planning for a new civic center area that could include a newly constructed library, community center and senior center.

“I am so excited to have more courts because we have a lot of seniors here. It just will afford us to play more often,” Speich said.

So far, City Council has approved at least $13 million in project costs, according to city officials.

Two-minute impact

The city’s Facilities Master Plan is broken up into four phases, but details are only set in stone on Phase 1, which involves building a new public works building, City Manager Dave Beach said.

The public works building will be relocated from its current location on Amherst Street to city-owned property at Dincans Street and Westpark Drive. Beach said by early July, the city will be out of the permitting process, with the next step entailing the start of construction. An estimated $12.4 million was budgeted for this project, with construction expected to last 12-14 months.

Details on Phase 2—also a $12 million-plus budgeted project, which entails moving the senior services building, library and community center—are to be determined and subject to public feedback, including whether those facilities would all be housed in one building or three separate buildings. Officials with the consultant group Pierce Goodwin Alexander & Linville were contracted in February for design work on that phase at the cost of $983,000.

A closer look

Several public meetings were hosted in June to gather feedback on what residents want the building to look like and what programming they want to prioritize there.

In a survey of 526 West U residents conducted between April 17-May 7 related to the master plan's second phase, 41% of respondents said "consolidating new buildings to create green space" was a "most important planned improvement," the highest percent of any response. Another 32% said "more trees," while 30% said "more efficient parking design."

A total of 48% of respondents said they were "very supportive" of closing Milton and Amherst streets as part of the overall design to provide more community space and more efficient parking. Another 18% said they were "supportive."

A total of 45% of respondents said they were "very supportive"—with another 23% being supportive—of the city's plans communicated at the time of the survey to reimagine the civic center area with more walkability, places for relaxation and room for civic functions.

At a June 24 workshop, planners presented some proposals for how the new library/senior services center/community center could be designed within the broader civic center area, including streetscape concepts, gathering public feedback as well.

"The most important component of this relative to the design of the buildings ... is whether you want those oriented around a new public space ... or designing them around the current road structure," PGAL's CEO Jeff Gerber said at the workshop.

Planners said the considered the following goals when coming up with different options:
  • having walkable, safe streets with shade and lighting
  • the use of “complete streets,” which facilitate the movement of cars, parking cars, walkability and community gathering space during events
  • green spaces opportunities
reinforcing West U’s identity as a desireable place to live and raise a family

To kick off the conversation, planners introduced three different ideas to council members for consideration as starting points when it comes to streets and circulation. From there, council members will move toward a consensus on what direction design should head in future workshops.
  • 1. West U Green: A green space extends from Huffington park into the space connecting Milton and Amherst streets. The west side would feature a new library of up to two stories. The east side would feature a combined senior and community center.
  • 2. The Commons: Inspired in part by St. Thomas University, the concept would feature a community/senior center from Amherst. The library serves as a keystone piece, connected with covered walkways and with additional outdoor social spaces.
  • 3. Town Square: The library is a focal point across Milton Street, which would no longer connect all the way through to College Street. The library is connected to the community and senior center, which extend south with a dropoff on Amherst Street. A town square space would be used for activities and events. Parking would be added to the community center, senior center and library in addition to street parking. People would be able to connect from Milton to Amherst through the parking area.
Residents to submit feedback during the June workshop process expressed positive attitudes toward wider sidewalks and mixed feedback on complete streets. Residents emphasized the importance of shaded walkways, bike racks, crosswalk safety improvements and electric vehicle charging support. Residents are also seeking an analysis of traffic impacts on surrounding neighborhoods related to each civic center design.

Officials were going to meet July 8 for another workshop that would've featured cost estimates for some project elements. However, that meeting was delayed because of Topical Storm Beryl.

Zooming in

As West U officials continue gathering resident feedback, members of the West University Place City Council tasked city staff June 10 to consider alternative options for Phase 3, which could involve demolishing the city’s existing community center and building a new fire station to the site.

The fire station would be relocated from the city’s municipal building. Mayor Pro-Tem John Montgomery said, while he doesn’t want to slow the plan down, he believes it’s important to look through the plan in more detail to ensure council is addressing the future needs.

In May, PGAL released a fire station comparison study, which looked at three options: a limited renovation at the existing site, a full renovation at the existing site, and constructing the new station on Auden Street. The third option offered the most benefits, according to the study, including meeting industry standards and not having to house fire fighters in a temporary building.

What's next

The four phases of the Facilities Master Plan were proposed in a way meant to allow facilities to remain open while construction is ongoing, Beach said. When work is underway on the new community center, the existing center will continue to host residents.

Only $1 million out of the $12 million budgeted for Phase 2 has been approved by City Council. No actions have been taken for funding Phases 3 and 4.

Meetings and project construction timeline
  • July 8: A planned West U City Council workshop to discuss urban planning concepts for Phase 2 was delayed because of Hurricane Beryl
  • Late fall/early winter: Future public town halls with project concepts
  • 2025 budget process: Funding the remaining $11M balance for Phase 2 will be discusse
Project start dates TBD
  • Phase 3: $13.4M estimated cost to build new fire station
  • Phase 4: $7.6M estimated cost for expansion of West U Police Department; City Hall renovation