Our View: Council must consider all rec plans

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The Steamboat Springs City Council must take a big-picture approach to community recreation facilities and develop a plan that stretches public funds to meet the broadest needs possible. If that means the city has to put proposed projects on hold until such a plan can be developed, so be it.

Our fear is that the city, under pressure to appease small groups of constituents, will move ahead with fragmented plans that benefit a few at the expense of many.

Within the next month, the city will consider three separate but related proposals:

Expanding the Steamboat Springs Health and Recreation Association to include indoor swimming pools. The association has a pre-application hearing with the Planning Commission on April 27. The estimated cost of the expansion is $13 million to $16 million, and taxpayers would pick up a portion of that cost. The Health and Recreation Association is a private, nonprofit health club.

Replacing the Steamboat Springs Community Center, which will be torn down to accommodate the Bud Werner Memorial Library expansion. The City Council will consider three possible sites at its May 9 meeting. The city has $1.5 million to replace the center, but a new center likely would cost more.

Building a new recreation center that would accommodate a variety of activities as well as facilities for teens and youth. On May 16, consultants Ballard King & Associates will make a follow-up presentation to the council on possible uses and locations for such a center.

The community center is used most often by seniors and the American Legion, but it also is used for community events and meetings. The three sites considered for a new community center are the George P. Sauer Human Services Center on Seventh Street, the Stock Bridge Transit Center west of town and Memorial Park near the high school.

Council members have discussed building a basic center that could accommodate group meetings and meals with the possibility of expanding later. But the sites being studied would limit such expansions; none is big enough to accommodate a recreation center.

The Health and Recreation Association provides significant public benefit and has always received public funds. But without considering other options, it's hard to know whether investing millions in the existing site is the best use of the community's recreation dollars.

Twice in the past five years, the city has hired a consultant to prepare plans for a full-scale recreation center. Such a facility could include a community center, indoor swimming, other recreational activities and space that could meet the needs of all generations, including teens and seniors. Ballard King has identified three sites in the city large enough for such a facility.

Perhaps the community can't afford such a center -- any plan would have to lay out specific cost estimates for each amenity the facility offers. But we should at least be able to consider such a plan.

At the moment, there seems to be an unnecessary sense of urgency to get the community center built. Yes, the council should live up to its promise to replace the center, but surely there is a facility that can host community center functions until the best permanent solution can be found.

We think the city would benefit from a new community center and indoor swimming. And we think the public is willing to spend more to get such amenities. But the city must weigh the current proposals against a comprehensive facility that could offer not only a community center and indoor swimming but also a variety of other recreational activities. Doing anything less would be a disservice.

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