The price to play

Groups encouraged to work together on rec center


What would it take for Steam--boat Springs to get a new community recreation center?

Resident participation, careful planning and education are essential to the process, Colorado recreation officials say.

They also say that if Steamboat can build a center that truly meets the community's needs, the benefits and rewards will span far beyond measure.

In 1999, Steamboat hired a consulting firm to do a recreation center feasibility study. Little has been done since to promote a new recreation center.

City Parks, Open Space and Recre--ation officials are trying to change that. Along with consultants, they conducted a public meeting last week to see what the needs are. More than 130 people showed up, and dozens signed on to be part of focus groups that will meet in the next several weeks.

Chris Wilson, Steamboat's director of Parks, Open Space and Recreation, said in a recent interview that momentum for a center is gaining -- and that kind of excitement makes this the right time to act.

What it takes

People who support a recreation center for Steamboat should take their time if they want to build the best center possible, said Tim Anderson, recreation director for Aspen.

"Don't be shortsighted. This is going to be wonderful for your community,

wonderful for the tourists, as well," he said.

City officials also will have to educate the public about the project, Anderson said. A group that tried to build a recreation center in Aspen left many questions unanswered, and the project was voted down. When the city took a different approach, voters supported it, he said.

"We took our time and really did a lot of education throughout the community -- what they want, what their concerns were. We picked up the ball, we answered all of the questions. We found a solution, answered the questions, took our time," he said.

Anderson is one of several recreation officials who think residents must participate in the recreation center development process. There may be multiple interest groups in town, each with its agenda, he said, but the groups soon will realize that working together is the only solution.

"We can all work together and get something. If we don't work together, none of us will get anything," Anderson said.

Jill Wait, director of recreation for Breckenridge, said it's also important for cities to remember that recreation centers will need to grow and change over time.

"It's not just for today's needs; they need to forecast what happens in the future. Stay in contact with the demographic trends and needs in your community," Wait said.

Steamboat officials and residents can wish for a center, but at some point, the city will have to decide how to pay for it.

Don Taylor, the city's director of financial services, is working on possible options to fund a new center for Steamboat, said Susan Petersen, the city's recreation supervisor. Hopefully, Petersen said, Taylor's research will become part of a study recreation officials plan to present to City Council in January or February. Some of the most important cost-related factors are site location and the facility's size, Petersen said.

Other Colorado recreation centers became a reality through a variety of funding options.

Aspen's $20 million center was built using bond issue and general fund monies, Anderson said. A private group raised about $8 million for the NHL-size ice rink, and the youth center, which is not part of the city, put in $1.5 million. The city also was able to use excess property taxes for five years to go toward construction costs because of an exemption from the Taxpayers Bill of Rights.

In Glenwood Springs, voters approved an initial bond issue, then another one for recreation center expansion seven years later, said Leon Kuhn, director of parks and recreation there. The $17 million facility also was funded by account transfers, energy impact grants and Great Outdoors Colorado grants.

The Silverthorne Recreation Center was one of the projects that benefited from a 1992 vote to pledge 60 percent of the revenue from the town's existing 2 percent sales tax to capital projects.

Officials said few centers meet their recovery costs, and most receive subsidies for operations. Fees and sales taxes also are popular sources of funding operations.

Wait said Breckenridge's center doesn't come anywhere near full cost recovery. But it brings an immeasurable amount of economic benefit to the community.

"We need not underestimate the value of recreation in all of our municipal economies," Wait said. "We are attracting people here who will remember our community as being well-rounded, and they come back year after year because they can have it all."

Steamboat's situation

Recreation and community centers are not new to Steamboat, and plans for the new recreation center are coming at a key time for both.

A new community center appears to be a certainty for Steamboat. The current facility, the Steamboat Springs Community Center, will be razed as part of the Bud Werner Memorial Library expansion project approved by voters this month. The City Council has promised the center's most frequent users -- seniors and the American Legion -- that a new center will be in place before the old one is torn down.

A steering committee presented ideas for the new center to the council, which included a variety of recreational facilities, such as a climbing wall.

Steamboat's parks and recreation officials say the community center cannot meet the city's recreational needs. They are two different types of spaces, Wilson said.

"A recreation center has more active elements to it," he said. "A community center is a more passive facility."

Wilson said it's possible for towns to combine the needs of both facilities into one. "Com--monly, community center rooms are put into rec centers," he said.

Kuhn, the Glenwood Springs director, said Steamboat should consider consolidating the two.

"I would recommend strongly that the two groups get together and combine into one facility. I think going out on two issues could be creating a divided interest," he said. "I don't know what they want in a community center that is so different from a recreation center. It's a common theme to put meeting rooms into recreation centers."

Other Colorado cities have multiple recreation and community facilities. Aspen converted a former elementary school into an arts and recreation center with a climbing facility, gymnasium and room for classes. Breckenridge and Silverthorne own public pavilions with rentable spaces.

The push for a recreation center also is coming at a critical time for the Health and Recreation Association, which runs the recreation center at Third Street and Lincoln Avenue. The association is a private, nonprofit group.

The association has a master plan that includes adding an indoor pool, an amenity the city does not have. The project depends on resolving site issues such as access and parking, but Health and Recreation Association director Pat Carney thinks the plans will work, especially with help from the city.

City officials have included the Health and Recreation Association in discussions about the future of recreation in Steamboat; Wilson and Carney agree that the city and the association should work together. Wilson said he knows there is an answer for all the groups involved -- he just doesn't know what it is yet.

"There are multiple solutions out there. We need a community process to help us all figure it out," he said.

Carney said she understands and sees the need for other recreational amenities.

"People need services that we can't provide at Health and Rec," she said. "Water is something we do really well. We can help the city do the other parts."

Steamboat is in a special situation, Carney said, because it already has a recreation center that provides several amenities.

"Steamboat's a unique town. We don't need to copy these other ski towns and build the 'big everything' all in one place," she said.

If a city recreation center doesn't duplicate amenities already at the Health and Rec Center, recreational users will save money, Carney said.

"I think we can do this in a really smart way," she said. "I'm optimistic that this will come out for everyone."


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