Harwich Selectmen Approve Cultural Center Fee Increases

By: William F. Galvin

The Harwich Cultural Center at the former middle school.  FILE PHOTO

HARWICH — The success of the Harwich Cultural Center was evident Monday night when selectmen voted to increase fees for the rental of space and the only one to complain was a selectman, who thought the charge for classroom participants was too high.

Community Center Director Carolyn Carey was asked to look at the fees for the first year of the cultural center program at the former middle school on Sisson Road. She recommended raising the fee for room/studio rental when more than one person occupies the space, as well as increases for the shop and the main office wing.

There will also be new charges for use of the outside courtyard, classes and workshops in the music and art rooms and library, auditorium and cafeteria. A higher fee will also be charged for the portable classroom space based on the square footage and additional amenities.

Carey said there will be a six-month grace period for existing renters before increasing the rates to allow them to get their finances in order. All new rentals will begin at a higher rate.

“There are 16 people on the waiting list and some are waiting for the right time frame,” Erica Strzepek, who oversees the center, told selectmen.

Carey said the main wing classrooms have been rented for $300 a month, but now the fee will be $300 for single occupancy, $200 each for double and $150 each for triple occupancy. The activity wing, the portable classrooms, were $450 a month; that is now the price of single occupancy, with double going to $275 each and triple occupancy at $200 for each occupant.

There will be an increase in the industrial arts shop from $600 to $750 a month. The administrative suite, currently under a negotiated rate with the Cape Verdean Museum, should there be a future vacancy, would rent for $750 a month. The courtyard fee will go from $75 to $100.

Speaking of an increase to $100 for the auditorium, Ed McManus, president of Harwich Cranberry Festival, said, “I fully support the increase. It's the best deal around.”

Jesse Marsolais, who leases the industrial shop space in the basement of the center, expressed gratitude to the town for making the space available. He runs a press and lettering in stone business, which requires heavy equipment, and it was hard to find space that could accommodate the equipment. Because of the opportunity, he has made a long-term commitment to staying in the area.

“The increase proposed is manageable and still well below market value,” he said. “I've brought a true craft that doesn't exist elsewhere on the Cape.”

Selectman Julie Kavanagh said the fees are very reasonable and should be acceptable. Selectman Donald Howell said the town has to “crawl before it walks,” regarding generating revenues to cover costs the town has as owner of the building.

“I'm confident we'll be able to make ends meet going forward,” Howell said.

Carey pointed out the current monthly income at the center is $9,500. The new fees will generate $11,050 a month. She said the potential monthly increase is $1,550, which translates to an annual increase of $18,600.

Selectman Jannell Brown wanted to know about the class and workshop fees which call for the instructor to pay $15 and students to pay $5 per session. Strzepek explained there can be three session a day – morning, afternoon and evening – in a room with flexible times depending on the type of class. It never exceeds four hours a session, she said.

“It seems like a lot of money for a per diem use,” Brown said. An entire studio can be rented for $300 a month, she said. Using an after-school program as an example, she said with 10 children participating the town would generate $65 for the day. Carey pointed out the $5 session could be one day or one day a week for up to eight weeks.

“I'd feel more comfortable not having a $5 fee per head,” Brown said. “This is a cultural center, we're just providing rooms.” But the board did not agree, approving the $5 per person fee.

Brown also took issue with the daily rental fee for the auditorium, cafeteria and music room. Given the size of the space, she thought the auditorium fee was “way too low.” Carey said there is not a lot of adjustments required with the stationary seating. It was also pointed out there is no proper stage lighting and sound system, which must be rented. Custodial cost may also be added.

Town Administrator Christopher Clark recommended the board look at expanding the lease time frame to three or five years for the cultural center given the demand and the need to address maintenance should this become the long-term use of the facility. Facilities maintenance director Sean Libby could determine the facility's needs, he said, but the board said decided to address the issue in the near future.

Selectmen approved the rates as presented.

The board also approved a $5 increase in the residential beach fee, increasing that sticker to $30 in the coming season. Recreation Director Eric Beebe said the increase should generate between $35,000 and $40,000, which would cover the cost of wage increases for seasonal staff, estimated at $39,285. Beebe said the increase places the fee in line with other Cape town, which average $30.83, he said. This is the first increase of residential beach sticker fees since 2011.