Wednesday, December 6, 2006
The recent objections to the amount of money we are about to spend on a new community center at the Stock Bridge Transit Center may or may not become an opportunity to revisit this proposed expenditure. In the interest of encouraging an honest public dialogue, I offer the following comments about what I believe was an expedient, ill-conceived decision.
We have been told that a building was always planned for the Stock Bridge site. What we have not been told is that a building of a certain size was identified on a plan, allegedly to meet the threshold for CDOT to pay for the traffic light. This is a game that is often played by municipalities to qualify for state funding.
The previous City Council made a promise to the Council on Aging and the American Legion that they would have a new facility before the old one was torn down. Imagine if the agreement with the library required the library to include a community center in its plans in exchange for receiving the land under our existing community center. Do you think the library architect would have found a way to make it work?
With the city under the gun, the transit center site was selected first, then the idea was sold to the community. The result of this odd public process was to utterly confuse the nascent planning for a community recreation center. Thus, both the community center and the recreation center have a community room and kitchen in their respective plans.
Curiously, the library spent 10 years researching and planning its new facility. The city, on the other hand, reacted to the library's plans, deciding in a matter of months to move the community center to the transit center site. It is this reactive planning that gave us an initial budget of $1.5 million, now increased by 100 percent.
The severe chastising that the council endured from the county commissioners was disingenuous at best. Proudly displayed on one wall of the Commissioners' Hearing Room is a color photograph of the ribbon cutting for : the new transit center at the Stock Bridge site. Yes, the grants from the state were for a transit center. In the interest of expediency, city and county officials apparently persuaded state officials that the redirection of the grant money was OK. Everyone shamelessly ignored the nearly 10-year history of collaborative planning that resulted in the transit center.
Can anything be done to change the direction of this runaway freight train? Yes, if we are willing to use the tools of collaboration rather than intimidation. First, amend the agreement with the library. We will not make the deadline for completion anyway, so better to acknowledge this reality now than with two months to go next summer.
Second, find a temporary home for the Council on Aging and the American Legion. Several organizations and individuals have offered to help.
Third, look at options for collaboration: the library and the proposed recreation center. Can the city help the library meet its goals with a substantial contribution to construction costs in return for this community facility? There are successful precedents for co-locating public libraries and community centers.
Revisit the Howelsen Hill master plan, which included a recreation center. The master plan included community rooms, a teen center, a gymnasium and other amenities currently under discussion. Has it already been rejected as an option? If so, why? Will a combined community and recreation center save the city $1 million or more?
If, in fact, the Howelsen Hill master plan accommodated a recreation and community center, why are we not abiding by this plan? In my short tenure in this community, I have watched more than one plan be dismissed in the process of decision-making - an act that, in effect, dismisses the citizenry that responded to elected officials' requests to engage in community planning. Releasing ourselves from an unachievable deadline and enabling us to reconsider the community center would be a good first step toward re-establishing accountability of government. We might save some of our tax dollars, and we might do better for all our seniors, including the Council on Aging.
The views expressed above are the author's alone and do not represent the views of the Steamboat Springs City Council