City faces community center decisions

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— Time is ticking for the Steam--boat Springs City Council to make a decision about building a new community center.

There's no doubt the Steamboat Springs Community Center will be torn down to make room for the voter-approved expansion of Bud Werner Memorial Library. A former City Council promised community center users that a new center would be in place before the old one is demolished, and the present council is sticking to that pledge.

What: Parks and Recreation Commission meeting, which will be attended by Steamboat Springs Health and Recreation Association officials.

When: 6:30 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Rooms 113 and 114 in Centennial Hall, 124 10th St.

But at the same time, the council faces questions about recreation facilities in Steamboat Springs. There has been a push for a public recreation center, and the council will be asked to make decisions soon. Also, nonprofit Steamboat Springs Health and Recreation Association recently submitted preliminary plans to build an indoor pool on its existing site at Third Street and Lincoln Avenue. Expansion at the Health and Rec will be predicated on city funding.

Although many decisions loom, the council took a first step several months ago, when it said a new community center takes first priority.

Community center

The council's decision to push for the community center is motivated by the former council's promise. The catch is that there is a timeline.

The East Routt Library District, which owns and operates Bud Werner Memorial Library, must spend 85 percent of the bond proceeds within three years of the bonds being issued. The bond closing is scheduled for June 12, library director Chris Painter said. Officials expect to break ground in August 2007, which means the community center, which is adjacent to the library, must be demolished soon.

A community center steering committee has determined that the council must select a site for a replacement center by early June.

"The No. 1 goal is to get out of the way of the library so that they can start construction," said council member Towny Anderson, who is on the community center steering committee. "As of June 12, the clock will be ticking."

In March, the council agreed to hire architects Andrews and Anderson to analyze three sites: the George P. Sauer Human Services Center, the Stock Bridge Transit Center and Memorial Park. The steering committee, which is made up of interested community leaders, will meet again May 8 to look at preliminary layouts for each of the sites. Architects will present those layouts to the council on May 9.

During its meeting March 15, the steering committee evaluated each of the sites for access, constructability, potential for expansion, neighborhood fit, ownership and zoning.

The committee also has identified ideas for the "must haves" and the "should haves" of a community center. The center must have a main entry, a community room, community room storage, a commercial kitchen, office spaces, an American Legion conference room and restrooms. Less important are a multi-purpose activity room, a toddler activity room, smaller offices and space for teenagers.

Last week, City Council members discussed the $1.5 million they set aside for the center. Officials think the money will not be enough for a basic community center, let alone one that includes extra amenities.

Council member Paul Strong said the facility could be built as a basic center with the ability to add to it in the future.

"It's not an either-or choice," Strong said.

Council member Steve Ivancie agreed, saying that expandability and phasing are important.

"Stick to what you've got the finances for," Ivancie said.

Anderson said Friday that he also agreed that the council should stick closely to the budget.

"It has to be on the fast track," Anderson said. "It can't be everything that we aspire it to be."

Recreation facilities

The potential for a public recreation center has returned.

In 1999, the city hired Ballard King & Associates, a consulting firm, to study the feasibility of building a center in Steamboat. The study was completed, and little was done with it.

The city hired the consultants again in October 2005 to do a second-phase study. In November 2005, a series of public meetings and focus groups about a public recreation center began.

Ballard King made a Fe--b--ruary presentation to the council that included the identification of four possible recreation center sites -- one called Curci Turner with access off of Hilltop Parkway and Longview Circle, one called Meadows Barn with access off Pine Grove Road and Mount Werner Circle; Steamboat Springs School District property off U.S. Highway 40; and one called Ski Town with access off U.S. 40 and Pine Grove Road.

Ballard King also presented information about what a recreation center should include. The most important elements were a youth area, a gymnasium, a track, multipurpose rooms, a kitchen, a teen center, a childcare area and support spaces.

The report also identifies the need for a pool.

"This space is essential to providing recreation services in Steamboat Springs and should be included in this facility unless it is accommodated in the renovation and expansion of Steamboat Health and Rec," the report reads.

The Steamboat Springs Health and Recreation Assoc--iation has those exact plans, and association officials will meet this week with Parks and Recreation Commission members to discuss recreation facilities.

The Health and Recreation Association has turned in plans for a pre-application review. During the review, city staff and city officials look at the plans but make no decisions. Projects often change after going through the pre-application stage.

The council may see the Health and Recreation Assoc--iation's plans as soon as May 16, when Ballard King also is scheduled to make a presentation about a public recreation center. Ballard King's presentation will include a list of options meant to encourage the council to decide what choices to explore.

The association proposes creating a building that would house a new lap pool and leisure pools. The plans also include several renovations and a new parking lot.

Anderson has said that he is concerned that talk about a recreation center is stalling the association's plans for an indoor pool.

"I think that it is a perfect opportunity for a public-private partnership, and that once we see what their vision is -- what they can provide with their expansion, then that will inform us about what the city recreation center should look like," Anderson said Friday. "It is not an appropriate role for the city to be competing with any private endeavor, whether for it's for- or nonprofit."

Health and Recreation Assoc--iation Director Pat Carney agrees that the project has been stalled.

"We can't do our project without the help of the city and the community," she said. The association does not have the money to fund the project, which Carney said could cost between $13 million and $16 million. The association will need the city's financial support.

"It's going to be a partnership with the city to pull it off," Carney said.

Plans for a recreation center do not have to conflict with the association's plans, Carney said. Some of the elements people have said they want to see in a recreation center don't belong at the Health and Recreation Association, she said.

"We're not trying to put everything here," she said. Instead, she said, a new recreation center -- or the city's new community center -- could include those elements, such as a gymnasium or space for teens.

Carney said the association does two things well: fitness and water sports. For that reason, she said she thinks the project is a positive plan for Steamboat.

"We feel like it's the best thing for the community to have the water in one place," she said.

Anderson agrees that the recreation association does aquatics well. He said that if the association builds an indoor pool, the city's facility could fill in the gaps.

"These plans should complement one another, pure and simple," Anderson said.

Strong said he doesn't have any problems with the association's plans to expand. However, he thinks that if the city is going to invest in any recreation project, the location is important. Strong isn't sure that the Health and Recreation Association's location can handle any more traffic.

In a perfect world, the association would have unlimited funds and could move forward with the project independently, Carney said. But the association will have to be part of a process to see what the council decides.

"We all have to go through it to see what's best for the community," Carney said.

--o reach Dana Strongin, call 871-4229

or e-mail dstrongin@steamboatpilot.com.

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