The city of Steamboat Springs is contemplating an $18 million community recreation center. The Steamboat Springs School District is looking to build a new Soda Creek Elementary School and make improvements at Strawberry Park Elementary School at a cost of $28.5 million.
Those are important issues, and we have advocated for both. However, we think the school district and city would be remiss if they didn't first work together to develop short-term and long-term facility solutions for the city's after-school program.
The after-school program itself is tremendous. The staff does a great job providing activities for children during the time between the end of the school day and most parents' workday.
But one visit will reveal that the Igloo - the old hockey locker room that houses the current program - is among the most problematic facilities the city has. It is a smelly, cramped and inadequate eyesore that should be demolished. It certainly is not appropriate to host 50 children for two hours each weekday.
Yes, the city's proposed recreation center includes space for youth and teen programs and could accommodate the after-school program in the long run. But we're not sure that's ideal. While it makes sense for a recreation center to include room for activities like summer camp, Parents Night Out, and an arcade or youth dances, the after-school program is best housed at one or more of the elementary schools.
A decade ago, the city ran the after-school program in the gym at Soda Creek. But differences between the city and school district over space, availability and ongoing maintenance prompted the city to find a different location.
Emerald City, at 11th and Yampa streets, housed the after-school program starting in 2000. But it closed in 2002 and was torn down. That prompted the move to the Igloo, a portable building adjacent to Howelsen Ice Arena that at one time served as the ice arena dressing room. The facility still smells a little like damp hockey gear.
Because the facility is not at a school campus, children in the program must be bused to the Igloo from both elementary schools. Time that could have been spent on activities or homework is instead spent on a bus.
As the city and school district look to add and improve facilities, resolving this issue should be a top priority. We think it would be ideal for the city to run the program, but for one or both of the elementary schools to house it.
This doesn't have to be complicated - after-school programs are run in school gymnasiums, cafeterias, auditoriums and classrooms around the country. Certainly the school district has some kind of space now that would be an improvement over the Igloo.
The school district and city should discuss the long-term facility needs of the after-school program and make sure any school district bond issue plan meets such needs.
There is no reason for this to be a territorial issue. The community's taxpayers fund the staff that runs the after-school program and the facilities that house our school children. It is well within reason to expect the city and school district to work together to solve this pressing need.