Rec center poses challenge

Ballot question possible but would require a lot of work

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— A new city-owned recreation center won't happen unless some hurdles are cleared.

Steamboat Springs City Council members last week discussed the possibility of a center and their interest in placing a question on the November ballot, but they also acknowledged there's a lot of work to be done to make that happen.

Some of that work will include dealing with a community that appears divided about the location of an indoor pool.

Members of the Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation Commission are hoping the council will do what it takes. Commissioners recommended last week that the city go for a ballot question in November to fund a new recreation center.

"The facilities and the programming that go with it have been put off long enough," commission chairwoman Jill Brabec said Thursday. "This needs to go forward. We've gotten the information, and we think that the community wants it."

The concept

Consultants Ballard King & Associates and architects Sink Combs Dethlefs worked together to create a rough concept design for what a Steamboat Springs recreation center would look like.

The site preferred by the consultants is called Curci Turner and has access off Hilltop Parkway and Longview Circle.

The center's design was built around the concept of three "core" spaces that could be built in phases, with the first core space being the top priority. What would go inside each core was determined by public input.

The first core would be about 41,700 square feet and would include:

A 5,000-square-foot youth area for after-school, early-release and summer-camp programs.

A 13,000-square-foot gymnasium that could be divided into two gyms with a curtain.

An 8-foot wide running track that is on a second floor and goes around the perimeter of the gym.

A multipurpose space of about 3,000 square feet that can be divided.

A 500-square-foot kitchen.

A 1,500-square-foot teen center that includes a TV lounge, game area, computer space, snack bar and office. This would be connected to a patio.

A 1,000-square-foot drop-in child care area.

Support spaces, such as a lobby and front desk area, totaling 5,250 square feet.

Building the first core would cost about $9.6 million. The consultants estimated that the core's operating costs would be between $275,000 and $360,000 a year.

The second core would be about 27,500 square feet and would include:

A 20,500-square-foot aquatics area. There would be an eight-lane pool and seating for 200 people as well as a leisure pool.

Support spaces, such as locker rooms, totaling about 2,400 square feet.

Construction costs for the second core were estimated at about $9.6 million. The estimated annual operations cost would be between $500,000 and $800,000.

The third core would be about 30,500 square feet and would include:

A 21,000-square-foot field house with artificial turf that could be used for a variety of sports.

A 2,000-square-foot indoor playground with padded floors. This would be close to the child care area.

A 350-square-foot, two-story area for a climbing wall that could accommodate as many as six climbers.

Two racquetball courts in an area of about 1,600 square feet.

About 500 square feet in support spaces.

The third core would cost about $19.2 million to build, and the annual operating costs would be between $500,000 and $750,000.

If the first and second core were built -- as proposed by the Parks and Recreation Commission, the estimated annual membership fee for an adult Steamboat Springs resident would be $300, and the fee for a family of four or less would be $500.

The designs the architects presented are preliminary, said Ken Ballard of Ballard & Associates. It's up to the council to decide which elements should be included in the center's first phase.

The council likely will have to eliminate some of the core spaces, Ballard said. Nobody is advocating building all of them at once, he said.

Council member Paul Strong agreed.

"It's a very good plan. That doesn't mean we can afford all of it," he said.

Council member Steve Ivancie said the most important elements of the center are the youth and teen spaces.

"That has to be a priority for this community and this council," he said.

Ivancie also advocates building the field house and the indoor playground, spaces he said would address pressing needs.

Judy Zetzman, a member of a group called Citizens for a Community Recreation Center, also wants to see the indoor playground moved higher on the priority list.

"In my mind, that should be one of the priorities, the younger kids in the community," she said.

Time ticking

Choosing what belongs in which core spaces is just one of the council's concerns. If the city plans to seek taxpayer approval on the November ballot, officials must notify the Routt County Clerk and Recorder's Office by July 28.

"The clock is running on a November ballot timeline; this is something that is going to have to occur reasonably quickly to make the election possible," Ballard said.

Council members have a lot of homework to do first, Strong said.

"The history in this town is that we need to have a pretty well-set plan to have a chance with the voters," he said.

The council must work quickly while at the same time but not too hastily, Ivancie said.

"We need to go into this focused on success," he said. "If we fail on this, it will be years until it comes back up."

One of the biggest challenges the council faces is deciding where the indoor pool should go -- at the new recreation center or at the Steamboat Springs Health and Recreation Association's facility at Third Street and Lincoln Avenue.

The Health and Rec Association is a private, nonprofit organization that recently submitted plans to build lap and leisure pools where the current lap pool sits. There has been a great deal of community debate about where the indoor pool should go, and the Health and Rec Association's board and the Parks and Recreation Commission could not come to a consensus.

In addition to the city-owned recreation center proposal, Ballard and Andy Barnard of Sink Combs Dethlefs worked on the Health and Rec Assoc--iation's proposal.

"The big issue on the forefront is the aquatics piece. That's the big gorilla that has to be dealt with," Ballard said.

Ballard and Barnard submitted a letter stating that the pool belongs at the new recreation center. One of the primary reasons for the decision, according to the letter, was financial. Operating the center will come at a high cost, they said, and would make sense for the city to do so using tax dollars. Also, the Health and Rec Association's center should focus on its primary revenue sources: fitness and the hot springs pools.

The council voted 5-1 last week to pay for 50 percent of the cost of a facilitator to work with interested groups and come to an agreement. Eighty to 90 percent of that effort will be focused on the pool, Ballard said.

"The biggest hurdle we have is figuring out the size and location of an indoor pool," Ivancie said. "Once we do that, I think everything will fall into place."

The Parks and Recreation Commission also made the recommendation that the pool be located at the city-owned facility.

"It's not that anybody wants to harm Health and Rec; we have a lot of respect for what they do," Brabec said.

She said one of the first things the commission discussed in relation to the recreation center was the possibility of creating partnerships with the Health and Rec Association. Brabec said that relationship could mean sharing staff or other resources to make both centers affordable.

"I'm not smart enough to figure that out," Brabec said. "Somebody's done that before, and we should be able to figure it out."

Strong and other council members have said they want to look into a shared pass; residents could pay for one pass and belong to both centers. However, Strong said, that would decrease the revenues at the new center, which would increase the necessary subsidy.

If the council moves forward with a ballot question, it still will be up to voters to decide whether they want to pay for a recreation center, Strong said.

"It's going to be a big bond issue," he said. "It's really going to test the voters' appetite of what they're going to do."

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