Some unsure of site choice

City Council's community center decision questioned

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— Make no doubt about it: Steamboat Springs will get a new community center. But whether the City Council selected the best site for the center has quickly become a subject of debate.

The council last week voted, 4-3, to renovate the George P. Sauer Human Services Center on Seventh Street and make it the home for community meetings. The Steamboat Springs Community Center will be torn down to make room for the expansion of Bud Werner Memorial Library. The council has promised to replace the center before it is razed.

The council reviewed two sites before makings its decision: the Human Services Center, where renovation would cost about $2.3 million; and land near the Stock Bridge Transit Center, where a new center would cost an estimated $3 million. The council had set aside $1.5 million in its budget for the project.

The Human Services Center is owned by the Steamboat Springs School District. Council representatives plan to go to the School Board's meeting Monday night to discuss negotiations for lease or purchase of the site.

Council member Towny An----derson, who voted for the Human Services Center site, said he thinks the council will seek a lease agreement with the school district before discussing a longer-term option to buy the site. District Superintendent Donna Howell could not be reached for comment.

Preliminary sketches detailing what a community center at the Human Services Center would look like include transforming the gymnasium into a large community room. A new kitchen would be installed north of the community room, and open patio space would be south of the community room. A second phase of the project proposes the addition of space for teenagers and toddlers.

Council members Kevin Kaminski, Steve Ivancie and Paul Strong voted against the Human Services Center site. They favor the Stock Bridge site.

Community concerns

Seniors frequently use the Steamboat Springs Community Center, and several of them expressed support for the Stock Bridge site during Tuesday's council meeting. They cited ease of access, transportation and the presence of a kitchen as primary reasons for their preferences. The seniors said they could not share the Human Service Center's kitchen with the school district. In response, architect Nan Anderson proposed adding a second kitchen in the open space north of the gymnasium.

That proposal eased some of the seniors' concerns, said Shelley Orrell, director of the Routt County Council on Aging.

"If we had to share a kitchen, it wouldn't work," she said.

But she emphasized that many seniors aren't happy with the council's site selection.

"All the seniors just feel like they were slapped. They are all upset," Orrell said.

Senior citizens aren't the only ones upset with the decision. Some parents stressed the need to build a facility that immediately would include space for youths. Others think a decision about the community center should be delayed until recreation center discussions progress.

JoEllen Heydon was one of several people who spoke during the council meeting last week. She asked council members to select a site that had room for a community center and a future recreation center.

"This decision was made out of haste, and people are going to suffer because of it," Heydon said.

The kitchen issue aside, there are other problems with the Human Services Center site, particularly access, Orrell said. In the first phase of the renovation project, seniors would have to walk up stairs or go up a ramp to get inside the building. It isn't until the second phase that access to the ground level would change. Second-phase plans have not been fully established.

"We don't know when or if the school district will ever vacate that," Orrell said.

Access is just one of the un----knowns in the project, Orrell said.

"I don't think the future's certain at all," she said.

Chris Painter, director of Bud Werner Memorial Library, also has concerns about the preliminary plans.

The urgency with which a new community center will be constructed is driven by the library's timeline for expansion. The East Routt Library District must spend 85 percent of its bond proceeds within 36 months of when the bonds are issued. The closing date on the bonds is June 12; library district officials plan to demolish the Steamboat Springs Community Center in July 2007. A new community center is supposed to be built by the time the old one is razed, according to a pledge made by a previous City Council.

"I do have concerns that the timeline cannot be met," Painter said. "The school site -- while a good civic use of that land -- has a fair number of variables that need to be resolved."

"Because it involves another public entity, I'm not sure that it can realistically be accomplished," Painter said.

Towny Anderson said he doesn't think the negotiation process will take very long.

"If the School Board and the city come together, this could happen very quickly," he said.

Towny Anderson also said construction of the center would proceed quickly because it's a renovation, not construction. Winter weather would not affect the schedule or cost of construction, he said.

"We're working with the foremost preservation architectural firms in the state," he said. "We have the best of the best. Preservation: It's not a scary notion for them."

Nan Anderson said half of her firm's work involves historical buildings and that Andrews & Anderson Architects has won national awards for its work in historical preservation.

Cost concerns

One of Strong's primary concerns with building a community center at the Human Services Center site is cost. The Human Services Center site estimate may be cheaper, he said, but the city does not own the property.

"I'm very concerned on what a full block of downtown property is worth," Strong said. "I'm hoping we'll know that soon. I'm worried we'll not know soon enough for the library to go ahead. It gets to be a very pricey project when you add land to it."

The Human Services Center site was the least expensive option, Towny Anderson said. Although the city will have to lease or purchase the building from the school district, the Stock Bridge site was not a better selection -- that land once cost money, too, he said.

Strong said he is not against a city purchase of the Human Services Center, which once was a junior high and high school.

"The old junior high school is important and should stay in the public realm. If the school district decides to sell, the city should look into buying it" when the timeline is looser, Strong said.

Like Painter, Strong is concerned negotiations will take too long.

"We are now standing in the way of the voters' wishes -- that's my largest concern," Strong said.

No regrets

Towny Anderson, who has extensive background in historical preservation, says the Human Services Center is the right fit for the city and the community.

"This is one of the most significant public properties in the city" because of its green space, historical building and role in the history of Steamboat, Anderson said.

"I can assure you that no one in this community will regret (this project)," he said.

The downtown site keeps seniors and other community center users more engaged with the rest of the community, Anderson said.

"It keeps the community center in the community center," he said.

Also, Anderson said, the Stock Bridge land will remain available for future development.

The uses the new center will accommodate will not exceed the activities that occurred in the facility when it served as a high school, Anderson said.

"It is completely in line with the historical uses," he said.

The project will be a good investment regardless of the long-term outcome, Anderson said. The old junior high school building will be preserved, which Anderson said is a goal that agrees with the will of the community. The option to build a community and recreation center combination at another site remains a possibility, he said. If that happens, no land would have been wasted and the building would be preserved for other uses.

Anderson doesn't agree with anyone who says that renovating a building is undesirable.

"That's an excuse for those who don't embrace the ethic of historic preservation," he said. He said that historical preservation projects can save money and time.

The community's seniors were "wedded" to the Stock Bridge site, Anderson said, but he expects that they will be impressed with the results at the Human Services Center.

"When this is done, I fully expect that they will be blown away."

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