City groups get together

Schools, library and community center discussed

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An update presented to city leaders Wednesday about school district facilities turned into a discussion about the future of Steamboat Springs.

At the George P. Sauer Human Services Center, Steamboat Springs School District Superintendent Donna Howell gave a lunchtime presentation to members of the City Council, the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association, the School Board and the business community. The school district is gathering input about what to do with aging facilities such as Soda Creek Elementary School and the Human Services Center. The intent of Wednesday's meeting was to inform and speak with civic leaders.

With so many influential citizens in one room, the conversation quickly reached a broader scale.

"The one thing that is very apparent is that there are many things going on here that are all dependent on each other," said Ken Brenner, president of the City Council. Brenner said any renovations to school facilities are linked to the expansion of Bud Werner Memorial Library and the possible construction of a community center or recreation center.

To expand the library -- as voters agreed to do last month -- the city will have to tear down the adjacent community center. The City Council has pledged that a new community center will be built before the existing one is torn down.

At Wednesday's lunch, council member Towny Anderson brought up building a new community center on the site of the Human Services Center on Seventh Street. The Human Services Center is owned and used primarily by the school district.

The situation gets more tangled with the possibility of renovating or tearing down Soda Creek Elementary School.

Howell said Soda Creek has functional problems, including an inefficient floor plan, poor cooling and ventilation, low ceilings, structural support columns in the middle of classrooms and a high volume of traffic around the school site.

The district's strategic plan includes a recommendation to improve the Soda Creek facility. That would mean tearing down the school and building a new one at the same location or building a new school at a 9-acre site owned by the district in west Steamboat.

If a new school is built at the existing location, students would have to be taught somewhere else in the interim.

Several people at Wednesday's lunch said building on the Soda Creek site is a good idea.

"Assuming the cost of building at Soda Creek isn't exorbitantly higher, it seems like that is the place to go," said Education Fund Board and Main Street Steamboat Springs member Tom Ptach.

"Leaving the school down here will promote a family-oriented residential living pattern," said Brenner, a third-generation Steamboat resident. "We want to see this town stay the way it was when we grew up here."

Former Chamber President Ed MacArthur, owner of Native Excavating and a current Chamber board member, said that may not be possible given rising housing costs in central Steamboat.

MacArthur and other Cham--ber representatives, including Chamber President Kathy Stokes and Executive Vice President Sandy Evans Hall, said building a new school in west Steamboat, at a site nearly twice as large as Soda Creek, would save demolition costs and accommodate an area likely to grow in the future.

If a new school is built there, Evans Hall said, Strawberry Park Elementary School could be expanded to act as the sole --downtown school campus for young students.

Strawberry Park has renovation needs of its own. Its modular classrooms are sturdy but aging, school district Facilities Director Rick Denney said, and the school has inadequate ventilation.

City Manager Paul Hughes said gathering demographic information about family locations and employment areas would help gauge where to plan schools and city facilities.

School Board member Pat Gleason agreed, but he said families will move wherever a school is built.

"Historically, families move in around schools," Gleason said, adding that he is in favor of keeping an elementary school at the Soda Creek site.

A round of community forums to gather public comments about the facilities ended this week.

Howell said no new schools or facilities will be built for about five years.

A day after the lunch meeting, MacArthur praised the long-term discussion.

"It looks like they have a lot of interesting directions to look at, to see what makes the most sense," he said.

At the City Council meeting Dec. 13, council members will sit down with the entire School Board for the first time in four years.

"Hopefully we'll see a lot more of that," Brenner said. "That's what it takes to make good decisions -- you have to get your elected officials together in one room."

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