Our View: City should rethink decision

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The Steamboat Springs City Council took a major risk last week by selecting the George P. Sauer Human Services Center on Seventh Street as its future community center site.

The Human Services Center includes the old junior high school, which was built in 1920. We appreciate the council's efforts to convert that building to an important community use, and we understand that the cost of remodeling the Human Services Center is estimated to be about $700,000 less than what it would cost to build a new center -- but that doesn't include the cost to purchase or lease the site.

However, there are many questions that must be answered before celebrating the council's site decision.

The community center would be built into the back of the Human Services Center campus, where a children's gymnastics center is housed. A kitchen would be built between the existing Steamboat Springs School District kitchen and the community center.

Long-term, an artist's rendering envisions converting the original junior high building into a teen center with a new elevator between floors. A "toddler room" would separate the teen center from the community center. There would be offices, a kitchen and new outdoor areas. In these plans, the school administration building no longer exists.

The estimated cost of the first part of the renovation is $2.3 million. By comparison, the other option was building a community center at the Stock Bridge Transit Center for $3 million.

But there are a number of issues that must be resolved before such savings will be realized.

The city does not own the property, and acquiring it from the school district could get complicated.

In addition to its administrative offices, the school district maintains its food service operations at the Human Services Center. The Board of Cooperative Educational Services is housed there, as is the BOCES preschool.

The school district plans to replace nearby Soda Creek Elementary School. A site for the new school hasn't been determined, but public forums showed a preference for keeping Soda Creek where it is. If that happens, the district plans to put 16 modular buildings at the Human Services Center as the elementary school's temporary home.

Initially, the school district would lease the site to the city until the district can find and fund a suitable replacement for its offices. That means the city's long-term plans for the site depend on a lot of issues outside of its control.

The city also faces the opposition of about 40 seniors who are the most active users of the community center. Those seniors should not dictate the decision, but it is noteworthy that they expressed near unanimous opposition to the remodeling of the Human Services Center. They want a new building.

On Tuesday, the City Council will hear plans for a recreation center. Recreation center advocates have suggested that the council consider building a new community center at a site large enough that it could accommodate expansion into a full-fledged recreation center that meets the needs of not only seniors, but residents of all ages. That approach lets the council live up to its promise to provide a new community center while keeping the door open to a recreation center when and if the community is ready to pay for one.

The Human Services Center is a valuable downtown asset, and we support finding a community use that allows the site to be preserved. But given that so many questions still must be answered at the Seventh Street site, we would urge the council not to close the door on other options, such as the one they will hear Tuesday.

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