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Madison has natural resources and great people. The upcoming decisions about Academy on the heels of the library expansion presents a programming and financial challenge to the town. Historically, decisions were event-based, not within the context of our town’s assets. There is an old saying that “buildings are the gifts that keep on taking.” More important, the inefficient use of space creates exponential cost growth and an unnecessary burden on taxpayers.
Defining Academy’s renovation as a “yes or no” fast-track decision will only set the process back. Most will not understand who pays for this and how will it be used. I want to see Academy go forward, but, absent a plan that coordinates this large facility with our other spaces, defines a financing approach that doesn’t increase taxpayer burden, and addresses the reality of Madison’s population shift, we lose.
Since the mid 1980s, I have witnessed the impacts of decisions. I have also researched our town’s assets, budgets, and demographics. Few realize that the town has added 74 percent to its owned land (906 acres) since 1990. The residential housing capacity is basically built out. Between 2000 and 2010, we lost population in the ages of 15 to 30 and 55-plus, a trend that is expected to continue.
Academy’s success should tie with restoring the original design of Memorial Town Hall (congregating and performance space) to drive vibrancy of the downtown area and our whole community. A holistic plan that releases hidden value of unproductive assets, improves space utilization, reverses population trends, and controls taxes is needed. Slow down the Academy decision process and give us a sound plan that preserves her. This is about recognizing that Madison is a special place with special opportunities. Embrace change and it will be great.
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