Our View: Community Center decision a mistake

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The Steamboat Springs City Council erred Tuesday in choosing to build a new community center at the Stock Bridge Transit Center.

Yes, the council promised to replace the community center last year as part of its negotiations with the East Routt Library District. Yes, the voter-approved library expansion is tied to replacing the community center. Yes, the seniors who most use the community center have been very vocal about getting a new building.

But those aren't good enough reasons to rush into what we fear is a serious mistake. We urge the council to reconsider.

The intense pressure on the city to select a community center site is puzzling. Why not just let the library issue its bonds and move forward with the $11.4 million expansion, including the destruction of the community center in July of 2007? That would give the city more than 13 months to find a more suitable community center -- permanent or temporary.

This is a community center; thus, it should appeal to broad segments of the community. It's hard to fathom that what the council decided to do Tuesday -- spend $3 million to construct what basically is a big room with a kitchen at the Stock Bridge site -- is in the best interest of the community. Instead, this decision seems driven by a small group of seniors who have spent the past few weeks shouting down anyone who dared suggest any option contrary to their own.

There were good reasons for the council not to commit to the Stock Bridge site. Some of them:

The Stock Bridge Transit Center was built to relieve parking and transportation issues downtown. Use of the facility grows each year, and its future importance to the city is significant. Building a community center there reduces parking availability and undercuts the future potential of the transit center.

Plans for a new community recreation center, which could be on the ballot this fall, include a multi-purpose room and a kitchen similar to the plans for the community center. Surely, we at least should explore the possible efficiencies of incorporating a community center into the recreation center plans.

The city's original plan to remodel the George P. Sauer Human Services Center site into a community center was intriguing because it preserved one of the city's most historical buildings, maintained a high profile area for public use and saved prime open space. The only problem was that the Steamboat Springs School District, which owns the site, could not commit to the plan in the city's compressed time frame. Given a few more months, the result might have been different.

The city signed an intergovernmental agreement with the library district last year that stated, "Once a suitable location for the replacement of the Community Center Building and its current users has been identified, and construction of the new community center has been completed ... the library district will proceed, at its own cost and expense, to demolish the present community center building."

Some read that to mean the city promised a brand new building. That's semantics -- replacing the center before demolishing it is the city's sole obligation. Truth is, the city has more than a year to do that. There are facilities -- the Selby Apartments, Yampa Valley Medical Center, Colorado Mountain College or even the Steamboat Pilot & Today -- that the city could have contracted with to provide a meeting area and meals for seniors until the right facility can be built.

On Tuesday, the seniors got their center. So did the Library District. But considering that the city will spend three times the $1 million it got for agreeing to replace the community center, it's hard to see how the community got anything but a raw deal.

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