Moving in a new direction

With rec center issue dead for now, proponents look at other options

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Youth Program Specialist Alexis Wolf holds a large group meeting at "the igloo," where the Afterschool Action program is held.

— City and school district officials agree that facilities for teens and after-school programs in Steamboat Springs need to be improved.

After the Steamboat Springs City Council decided Tuesday night to postpone placing a new recreation center on the ballot, likely until November 2007, conversations have accelerated about other ways to address the immediate need for teen facilities and for an upgrade from "the Igloo," the former hockey locker room that currently houses the city's after-school programs, next to Howelsen Ice Arena.

Ken Brenner, president of the Steamboat Springs City Council, said the city reached a "very preliminary" agreement with the Steamboat Springs School District this week. As part of the agreement, the school district would provide the facility for an after-school program, and the city would provide the staff.

"I think that philosophically, we're in the same place," said district Superintendent Donna Howell, adding that she plans to gather more information about the feasibility of hosting an after-school program in a Steamboat school.

City Manager Alan Lanning said he and other city staff are aware of the conversations.

"We've been directed by the (City) Council to have something in the budget for 2007," Lanning said. "We're moving in that direction as quickly as we possibly can."

The city's first all-day hearing about the 2007 budget is Oct. 3.

"We'll be prepared to discuss alternatives at that time," Lanning said.

Supporters of the recreation center proposed an alternative Tuesday night.

The Recreation Ad Hoc Committee, which the City Council appointed earlier this summer to move forward with recreation center plans, recommended that if the council did not place an $18 million center on the ballot this year, that it instead fund a scaled-down, $3.9 million center to address immediate needs for local youths and teens.

"This facility would include site development for the eventual full build-out of a recreation center and provide a 13,000-square-foot building with dedicated space for the city's youth programs," reads the committee's recommendation.

Although no council member commented about the $3.9 million proposal, council member Towny Anderson acknowledged the importance of the issue in terms of city recreation.

"The most urgent need is expanding teen programs and a teen center. I believe that this council will address that immediately," Anderson said. "We will hear a lot about that (need) in coming weeks, especially in regards to coming budget discussions."

Before postponing the recreation center ballot initiative - because of unanswered questions about the center's design, location, facilities and costs - the City Council heard the results of a recent public survey intended to gauge sentiment about the issue.

Commissioned by the Denver investment-banking firm of Stifel, Nicolaus, the survey questioned 300 likely Steamboat voters, in telephone interviews conducted from Aug. 20 to 22. The survey's margin of error is 5.6 percent.

Steve Jeffers of Stifel, Nicolaus, cited two particular statistics demonstrating the community's desire for improved teen programs.

Although 96 percent of respondents rated the quality of life in Steamboat Springs as "good" or "excellent," 43 percent gave a negative rating to the availability of activities for youths and teens. Fifty-five percent of respondents who are parents gave a negative rating.

"That's a huge response, coming from a 96 percent positive community," Jeffers told the City Council. "These people could be much happier."

All of the council gave positive feedback to recreation committee members and directed them to move forward during the next year with the development of studies, including detailed construction plans, engineering estimates and public information.

Recreation committee member Michelle Caragol said progress couldn't happen without funding from the city, a request made by the committee Tuesday.

"(City) Council could authorize and fund consultants to go from conceptual drawings of a recreation center to architectural schematics and construction drawings," the recommendation read.

"That was what we were really hoping to get," Caragol said. "Without that, we can't move forward. We've gone as far as we can go as this group."

As the city and the school district continue to move forward, Lanning stressed the fact that existing after-school programs provide outstanding opportunities for local parents and students, and are run by hard-working, dedicated city staff.

"We already have an after-school program that is extremely well-attended," Lanning said. "We're not turning kids away."

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