Survey: Portsmouth residents want more recreational opportunities

Most questionnaire respondents also say they’d support new community center with higher taxes

By Jim McGaw
Posted 12/10/19

PORTSMOUTH — Most residents not only support a new community center in town, but they’d be willing to pay higher taxes to make it happen.

That’s according to results of a recent …

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Survey: Portsmouth residents want more recreational opportunities

Most questionnaire respondents also say they’d support new community center with higher taxes

Posted

PORTSMOUTH — Most residents not only support a new community center in town, but they’d be willing to pay higher taxes to make it happen.

That’s according to results of a recent town-wide community needs assessment survey, in which more than 1,000 residents took part.

The town commissioned the Center for Research & Public Policy (CRPP), a national research and public policy think tank, to execute the survey to find out what residents most liked about Portsmouth, as well as what they wanted in terms of parks and recreational services. 

The 15-minute survey was carried out between Oct. 14 and Nov. 15. Jerry Lindsley, president of CRPP, presented the findings to the Town Council Monday night.

“You had an amazing 1,130 responses,” Mr. Lindsley said, noting that for a town such as Portsmouth, his team usually looks for about 400 respondents for accurate results. “Folks were interested in the survey; there was a lot of participation.”

He said all but 100 people took the survey online, but built-in protections ensured that “no one person stuffed the ballot.”

Support for center

Under the section regarding parks and recreation, residents were told the town’s Parks and Recreation Department is now utilizing many municipal buildings across Portsmouth, but several are at the end of their life expectancy. 

Instead of spending about $10 million dollars to update or upgrade buildings used for recreational purposes, the town has considered spending anywhere from $3 to $6 million by consolidating recreation programs, arts and culture, the senior center and municipal multi-use rooms under a new roof in a “Portsmouth Community Center,” survey participants were informed.

When asked what they thought of establishing a new community center, 44.6 percent said they were “very interested” and 41.7 percent said they were “somewhat interested,” for a total of 86.3 percent in favor of the facility. Another large majority, 83.3 percent, said it was “very” or “somewhat” important for the town to investigate the feasibility of a community center.

When it came down to dollars and cents, most residents still threw support behind a new center. More than 70 percent said they’d “definitely” or “probably” support the center if they had to pay $75 more in property taxes annually for the next 20 years. The support grew (76.3 percent) if the tax increase was $50, and respondents were even more supportive (83 percent) if the tax hike was just $25.

Council member Keith Hamilton reminded everyone that any tax increase would be “forever,” not just 20 years. “We’ve had one tax decrease in town in 14 years,” he noted.

When respondents were asked about funding options to defray some of the costs of a new community center, about 75 percent said they supported the sale of older town buildings such as the former Coggeshall School building (8.3 percent), senior center (4.4 percent) or both (62.2 percent).

One question also weighed in specifically on the future of the Coggeshall Building, which has been considered for use as a community center in the past. More than 42 percent of respondents suggested it be sold to a private party, while 27.3 percent said it should be demolished, About 42 percent said they were unsure.

How would it be used?

A list of 38 conceptual uses for a new community center were presented to survey respondents, who were asked to check off all that interested them. The most popular turned out to be adult wellness or fitness programs (75 percent). 

Also popular were volunteer/community projects (59.9 percent), cultural special events (58.6 percent), walking/biking groups (58.6 percent), outdoor entertainment programs such as movies, music and stage shows (54.1 percent) and programs for older adults (52.9 percent).

Survey participants were also given the task of allocating $100 to up to four different initiatives in Portsmouth. Here’s how they chose to spread the money out:

• developing a new indoor recreation facility, $35,379 (32.3 percent of total)

• improving parks and outdoor recreational facilities and fields, $33,283 (30.4 percent)

• acquiring additional park land and open space, $23,466 (21.4 percent)

• improving indoor recreational facilities, $17,374 (15.9 percent)

Need more for kids

Several issue statements were also presented to respondents, who were asked to indicate if they strongly agreed, somewhat agreed, somewhat disagreed, strongly disagreed or were unsure. 

About 69 percent said they strongly or somewhat agreed that the town has too few safe environments for kids to gather and socialize without an organized event or activity taking place. Another 62 percent supported a new playground built at a central location in town, while about 61 percent said the town needs more after-school programs such as chess, robotics, crafts, running and rowing.

In another section of the survey, public exercise and fitness facilities topped the list of frequently named needs in town, with more than 60 percent of respondents checking it off. Under the most frequently cited interests, farmers’ markets topped the list, with 89 percent of respondents saying that were very or somewhat interested. 

‘Lot of demand’

Council member Daniela Abbott, a strong advocate for more recreational programs in Portsmouth, said “the survey shows there is a lot of demand and need for these programs.”

She suggested the town use the survey results as a template to develop a proposal for a new community center — based on residents’ stated needs — to be placed on a future ballot.

Council Vice President Linda Ujifusa said she wasn’t always convinced of the demand for a community center, but the survey results have changed her mind. If one is built, it should serve all Portsmouth residents of all ages, she said. 

“Some of us need to think of recreational opportunities for people from diapers to diapers, as somewhat put it to me,” she said. “I think there’s a lot more support for this now than there was 25 years ago.”

Mr. Hamilton said he wasn’t surprised by the survey results.  “There’s always been support for a community center, but the dollars is what’s always slowed things down,” he said. “I am thrilled to go down this path … but remember, there’s a lot of steps to this.”

Others agreed that the survey is just the first step in making a new community center a reality, especially since there are other major capital projects with which the town must contend.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Council President Kevin Aguiar said.

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