A place for kids to play

Community members search for answers

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Steamboat Springs residents like to play.

But when it comes to indoor spaces for youths and teens, parents and officials say, the city's youths are sidelined.

Members of the Steamboat Springs City Council have spoken repeatedly about the need for spaces for the community's children. The time to act is creeping closer as the city plans for a new community center and residents push for a recreation center.

Spaces for children and teens, officials say, have to fit in somewhere.

"We don't really have good facilities," council President Ken Brenner said.

He said the community needs more programs for infants, toddlers and school-age children, but that's just not possible.

"We're just extremely limited on what we can offer right now because of constraints of space," he said.

One of officials' and parents' least favorite facilities is the Igloo, the modular building next to Howelsen Ice Arena that houses much of the city's youth programs.

City recreation staff estimate that the Igloo was built in 1980. The building originally provided support space for the city's then-outdoor ice arena.

The city's options are to move or to get an extension from building department officials to stay there, said Chris Wilson, the city's director of parks, recreation and open space.

Programs in the Igloo include an after-school program, which averages about 40 children per day, and the young children's program, which serves about 11 children per day. Summer camps include about 150 children a day, but activities alternate between the Igloo and Howelsen Lodge.

Inadequate facility

Parents say the Igloo is not adequate.

"Anyone who sees the facility can quickly see the condition kids have to go into," said JoEllen Heydon, who has two children who participate in city programs. Heydon said she loves the programs and her children's teachers, but she doesn't like the facility.

"It's depressing to drop your kids off in a place like the Igloo," she said.

There is a big need to replace the Igloo, said Lynne Peters, whose daughter is in the after-school program.

"It's pretty rundown, pretty outdated," Peters said.

Sandy Visnack, director of Grand Futures Prevention Coa--lition, agrees.

"It's a very sad situation because really we are showing our young people that they're not valued, that, 'This is what you get,'" Visnack said. She said programs are often "taken on the road" to satellite locations in part because of the condition of facilities.

Council members repeatedly have talked about building a center for teenagers.

There is a need for a teen center so teens have a place to go besides parking lots and convenience stores, council member Steve Ivancie said.

Peters, whose daughter is 10, also sees the need. "I'm not sure what she's going to do after school" when she gets older, Peters said.

Finding alternatives

Recreation programs for teens include special events, such as Battle of the Bands, which brought in 480 teens. Most of the high school student programs are held at non-city locations.

Teenagers have had dedicated spaces in the past. The Dock, which opened in 1993, was at the George P. Sauer Human Services Center on Seventh Street. It served middle- and high-schoolers. Emerald City, on 11th and Yampa streets, opened in 2000. It was open for middle and high school students as well as after-school programs and summer camps. Teenagers were allowed to change the interior of Emerald City at night, and they called it The Underground. Emerald City closed in 2002 and was later torn down.

"Emerald City was the right direction but did not meet the needs of the community," Brenner said. "We now have a shadow of what we had there."

Council member Towny And--erson said there is a will on the council to build these facilities.

"Paying attention to the needs of the teens and the youth is long overdue," he said. "It has been postponed long enough."

Meeting demand

The city is building a new community center. In preliminary plans, space for youths and teens is set for the second phase.

Brenner said he would vote for putting youth and teen facilities in the community center's first phase.

"To me, it's absolutely a no-brainer to build a facility like this," he said. "This is a great opportunity for Steamboat Springs. I, for one, don't want to let that slip away."

Ivancie agrees.

"We need to send a message to our teens that we value them and care about them and pay attention to their needs," he said.

Preliminary plans for a recreation center also show space for children and teens in the first phase.

Brenner is a proponent of having facilities for young people at the community and recreation centers.

"The two complement each other. They are not competing; it's not either/or. Both are unique and offer stuff for different types of kids," he said. Young people have a variety of wants and needs, and there should be a diverse list of opportunities for them, he said. Also, he said, both centers offer alternatives for parents who are there with their families.

Anderson doesn't see the need for youth and teen space at both facilities.

"Right now, the situation is that a teen center is drawn into plans for a recreation center and plans for the community center. That obviously has to be reconciled," he said.

Anderson said the council is acting reactively by deciding to build a community center and not keeping other needs, such as recreation, in mind. He said the city is likely building buildings that don't work, no matter how well they are designed.

"We are doing this in the absence of a long-term, larger vision. We are reacting to proposals and availability rather than looking at, 'How does all this fit together?'" he said.

Different perspectives

The definition of a teen center varies across the country, Wilson said.

"Everyone has a different perspective of what that is," he said.

If the city builds a teen center, he said, it should at least have office space, bathrooms, a kitchen and space that could function for different age groups. But if the teens don't like the center, he said, the center will fail.

Visnack agrees. The complication, she said, is that teens don't want a lot of rules, but they are in city-run facilities, which means rules such as no substance use.

Teens may want to go to the center, but they sometimes opt out because their peers are using drugs or alcohol somewhere else.

"Some kids in our community think they have to have drugs and alcohol to have a good time," she said.

Visnack said she sees the need for a multi-generational facility where seniors, toddlers and others can go different times of the day. She envisions a structure that is like a community center but can expand to include a gymnasium, pool, basketball courts, meeting space and a place to dance.

Visnack does not think that a stand-alone teen center is financially feasible. Any building that contains a teen center should be centrally located so teens who don't have cars can get there, she said. Also, the building should have offices for other organizations so there is more of an adult presence.

Involving teens

If the city is going to build teen facilities, the teens need to be part of the process, Anderson said.

"One thing the community hasn't done is pull together a focus group with the teens and ask them what they envision as a teen center," he said.

Leslie Faulkner, who has a 14-year-old daughter, agrees.

"I don't think all teens would go unless they got what they wanted" in a center, she said.

To pay for an expanded community center that includes youth and teen facilities, the council would have to have partnerships, Ivancie said. He has suggested that the council ask for donations to help maintain the center.

Brenner said there is a lot of discussion about facilities that must occur. "The debate about what's going to be included is yet to be had," he said. "This is an opportunity for people who care about this to continue to have input."

Wilson said that the city is open to suggestions. "I think that we'll figure it out as a community."

-- To reach Dana Strongin, call 871-4229

or e-mail dstrongin@steamboatpilot.com

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