Our View: After-school agreement is a smart plan

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Kudos to the Steamboat Springs School Board and the City Council for reaching an intergovernmental agreement on after-school programs.

The council signed off on the agreement July 17; the School Board is expected to do so at its next meeting. The agreement calls for the new Soda Creek Elementary School to include space for an after-school program, including a Youth Program Room. As part of the agreement, the City Council approved $250,000 for construction costs to be used at Soda Creek to build the 800-square-foot Youth Program Room, which will house office and storage space for after-school program staff.

We believe this is the most practical solution to a pressing problem - the city's inadequate after-school facilities.

The city's Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services department has operated the after-school program in 11 different facilities during the past 18 years. Since 2002, the Igloo adjacent to Howelsen Ice Arena has been the program's home.

We have argued in the past that the Igloo simply is not suitable. The modular building that used to be a hockey locker room is small and outdated. The city recently did some remodeling of the building, which was appropriate. But the remodeling was a short-term fix, not a long-term solution.

Some members of city staff hope a new community recreation center could be that long-term solution. The city has decided to put a $34 million center - to be built at Ski Town Fields near Mount Werner - on the ballot in November.

But even if the recreation center is approved, which certainly is not a sure thing, it still seems like a poor choice for an after-school program.

The fact is the best site for an after-school program is at one or more of the existing elementary schools. It is the most efficient and practical use of taxpayer-funded facilities. It is safer because it eliminates travel time.

Why bus children across town from a facility that adequately meets after-school needs to another facility that would have to be built to meet after-school needs? And why put the demand of after-school program usage on a multimillion-dollar recreation center when a new facility will exist that is better equipped to meet that demand?

This is not complicated - after-school programs are run in school gymnasiums, cafeterias, auditoriums and classrooms around the country. In fact, Steamboat Springs' after-school program was operated for years at Soda Creek Elementary School until disagreements about facility usage and maintenance led the city to find its own facility.

A safe, well-run after-school program is a critical need for working families. Eliminating travel time and expanding the hours school facilities are available to the community is the best way to meet that need. We applaud the school district and the city for being willing to amend the Soda Creek plans and reaching an agreement that should serve the community's after-school needs well into the future.

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