Manassas City Council members all agree Manassas needs to build a community center. The question is when.

Should the city take advantage of the flagging economy's lower construction costs and decide in the near future to issue a bond in the spring? Or postpone a decision until spring, when the council should have a fuller understanding of the economy's impact on next year's city budget, which would delay the project possibly for another six months?

Another option is to wait as long as another year, when the city would be prepared to place several projects under one bond.

The proposed community center would have a 50-meter indoor swimming pool accessible to the disabled, four racquetball courts and several meeting rooms, and would be in the park behind Jennie Dean Elementary School.

To help it decide, the City Council has asked City Manager John Cartwright to compile a list of anticipated major capital expenditures during the next several years to see where the proposed community center fits in with Manassas's other needs. Those include expanding Liberia Road and preparing city facilities for the planned commuter rail service. Cartwright is expected to present the list to the council in December.

Council member Robert L. Browne said he wants the council to consider issuing a bond in the spring after it reviews that list. If the bond were issued then, the facility could be completed sometime in 1992.

"This is absolutely the best time to move forward on a capital project," Browne said. The facility could be built for an estimated $7.5 million to $8 million at current construction costs, Browne said.

Manassas already has spent almost $500,000 on planning the facility. The architect, Wayne Hughes, has designed similar facilities in Herndon, Fairfax County and Annapolis.

Also at stake is a sizable contribution from the Boys and Girls Club of Bull Run for the facility, Browne said. In 1989, the club agreed to give Manassas about $100,000 and a piece of land off Mathis Avenue, valued at $600,000, with the stipulation that a community center be under contract for construction in three years, or early 1992.

Other council members say the risks of proceeding with a bond in the spring could outweigh savings on construction costs.

Council member Maury Gerson said the council should wait at least until it can measure the slumping economy's impact on next year's budget, which the council will begin work on next month. With only a slight growth in city revenue and cuts in state funding to the city and its schools, debt service on the bond could jeopardize funding for other city services and programs, such as salary increases for city employees, Gerson said.

"I can't see doing this without raising taxes to pay debt services," council member John P. Grzejka said.

Repayments on the bond could total $600,000 to $900,000 next fiscal year, which, under the current economic forecasts, could require an additional 4 cents on the city's real estate tax rate of $1.18, Grzejka said. The city already is paying about $6.3 million in debt service this fiscal year on $34 million in bonds issued in 1988 to fund several city projects.

Said Gerson: "Our intent is to get our base budget in place for next year . . . then let the public come {to} a public hearing and tell us what they want . . . . Do we freeze salaries or build a pool?"

One option, Gerson and Grzejka say, is to wait and fund the community center and the Liberia Road expansion with one bond. Plans for the road expansion will be ready in about a year. Cartwright said that putting the projects under one bond could save money on issuance costs, such as paying financial advisers for two separate bonds.

But, "if everybody agrees that financially the city could handle the two bond issues, one in '91 and {another} in '92, I think we will go ahead," Cartwright said.

Council members J. Steven Randolph and Ulysses X. White said they want to prudently expedite construction of the community center. "We have to determine whether the citizens are willing to pay for it," White said.

Mike Vanderpool, head of the city's Recreation and Parks subcommittee that worked with architects on the facility's design, said he believes Manassas citizens are ready to support the project.

"I think there is a strong feeling in the community that now is the time to {start} improving the quality of life," Vanderpool said. Manassas currently has only one major park, Stonewall Park Recreational Center on the city's north side. "The city has done a marvelous job of providing its infrastructure, but . . . the city desperately needs {recreational} facilities," Vanderpool said.