City, SSHRA can do better

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Much is happening on the local recreation center front. The Steamboat Springs Health and Recreation Association announced last week that it plans a major expansion - estimated at $8 million - at the Old Town Hot Springs. The City Council is exploring buying the U.S. Post Office property at Third Street and Lincoln Avenue, presumably as the site for an indoor pool operated by the SSHRA.

Finally, there is the Citizens for a Recreation Center group working to put a community recreation center on next fall's ballot.

All three entities - the city, the SSHRA and the Citizens for a Recreation Center - say they are willing to collaborate and that they want to avoid duplication of services.

Here is our problem - a new community recreation center must duplicate services currently offered at the Old Town Hot Springs if it is to be successful. A community recreation center without fitness equipment and without a significant water component is a recreation center the community doesn't want. The community, we think, wants a comprehensive center offering a wide array of amenities.

The Steamboat Springs Health and Recreation Association is a private group. If it wants to raise funds to try to expand and improve the Old Town Hot Springs site, that's the group's business. But we think the SSHRA has the most to gain from collaboration.

Let's be clear - the SSHRA's expansion plan is really a fight for survival, an effort to keep the Old Town Hot Springs viable in the face of the threat posed by a new recreation center. And the City Council, it seems, has been all too willing thus far to help prop up the Old Town Hot Springs by limiting new recreation center plans.

That's a flawed strategy that must change. The Old Town Hot Springs site is limited in size and thus what it can offer the community, even if it is expanded. What we would ask the city and the SSHRA leadership to consider is whether their time, energy and money would be better invested in working together on recreation services, no matter where those services are provided.

For example, why not contract with the SSHRA to provide the functions it knows best - fitness and swimming, for example - at a new recreation center? With cross-membership at the Old Town Hot Springs and the new center, wouldn't everybody win? The Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs offers the precedent for an outside vendor operating a city-owned facility.

That approach would allow the SSHRA to focus efforts at the Old Town site on its natural attractions - outdoor water recreation and its historic hot springs mineral pools. Plans to upgrade the slide and improve the pools should help reverse recent declines in tourist visits.

We do not think it is possible to preserve all of the current functions at the Old Town Hot Springs site and also give residents the community recreation center they want. It is the City Council's job to focus on the latter and let the SSHRA figure out the former.

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