Seventh Street site quashed

School Board nixes city's choice for community center

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The George P. Sauer Human Services Center will not be converted into a community center after all.

The Steamboat Springs School Board, which owns the Seventh Street property, voted 3-1 on Thursday to end negotiations to sell or lease the property to the city. Board members Tom Miller-Freutel, Pat Gleason and Denise Connelly voted to end negotiations. Jeff Troeger cast the dissenting vote. Board member John DeVincentis did not attend the meeting.

School Board members said they were intrigued by the city's offer; however, they did not think they had enough time to make a responsible financial decision. The school district's administrative offices, alternative school and kitchen are at the site, as are a children's gymnastics center, offices for the Board of Cooperative Educational Ser--vices and a preschool.

"When we sell it, it's gone," Gleason said. "If we don't get enough money to rebuild the offices, the kitchen and the other things we have here, then we have not met our fiduciary responsibility.

"Everybody is on board with the concept. The question is timing," Gleason said. "This is just a very, very quick timeline."

Miller-Freutel added: "I thought this was the best deal we would ever get for this site, but I have had a couple of people ask me, 'How do you know?' The truth is, I don't know if this is going to be the best opportunity for the district, especially when the district has not come to a clear decision about its future facility needs."

Connelly said the timeline did not give the board the opportunity to gather adequate input. "I really don't know what the community feels about this, what the community wants us to do with this property," she said.

A site for the community center must be decided by the end of the month so the Bud Werner Memorial Library can proceed with an $11.4 million expansion approved by voters in the fall. The expansion will require the demolition of the existing community center. The City Council promised the community center will be replaced before it is torn down.

The library district must spend 85 percent of its bond proceeds within 36 months of the date they are issued. The closing date for the bonds is June 12, and library district officials have said the community center issue must be resolved by then. If not, the library district would be in danger of missing its timeline, and that could put the expansion at risk of being underfunded because of rising interest rates and construction costs.

The City Council voted, 4-3, last week to select the Human Services Center as the community center site. That decision was contingent on working out a deal with the school district for the property.

The city might be able to take the matter up again at a meeting Tuesday, said council member Towny Anderson, who joined council members Susan Dellinger, Ken Brenner and Loui Antonucci in voting for the Human Services Center site.

Anderson said "there is no question" that the council will meet the library's deadline to have a community center site chosen.

Dellinger said she was surprised by the School Board's decision. But now that the Human Services Center site is out, she said the Stock Bridge Transit Center site is "back in play."

The Stock Bridge site west of town on U.S. Highway 40 was the preferred site of three council members -- Paul Strong, Kevin Kaminski and Steve Ivancie. The Stock Bridge site also was preferred by about 40 seniors who use the community center most frequently.

Building a new community center at Stock Bridge is estimated to cost $3 million. Remodeling the Human Ser--vices Center is estimated to cost $2.3 million.

About two dozen seniors attended Thursday's School Board meeting and applauded the board's decision.

"It is perfectly legitimate that you would take your time," Grace Dubendorf told the School Board. "We're not going to stop you, because we don't want your building. We want the Stock Bridge site."

Proponents of the Human Services Center site saw it as a chance to keep the community center downtown and to preserve the historical facility. The Human Services Center includes the old junior high school, built in 1920, and four additions built in 1927, 1939, the 1950s and 1972. The council's plan was to create a community center in the 1939 addition that houses the gymnastics facility. The site would have included a teen center, a toddler room, room for the American Legion, staff offices and outdoor space.

Troeger, the lone School Board member who wanted to continue negotiating with the city, said the opportunity was one that comes along only once a generation.

"I'm disappointed and saddened that we can't take advantage of this opportunity," Troeger said. "There are very few buyers for this property, and the city is an obvious one. I would have liked to have seen us at least try to work out some details. But I don't have the votes -- it's as simple as that."

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