Field house public-private agreement could be signed Thursday by Steamboat School Board | SteamboatToday.com

Field house public-private agreement could be signed Thursday by Steamboat School Board

Ben Ingersoll

One plan Mark Lynch and Kevin Sankey have looked into for the Steamboat Springs Athletic Center includes a 360-foot-long, 210-foot-wide turf field, complete with locker rooms, a weight room, restrooms, offices and spectator seating for about 150 to 200 people.

— Eight months ago, Kevin Sankey and Mark Lynch thought they were within four weeks of having an agreed-upon plan — a document that would spell out a public-private partnership between them and the Steamboat Springs School District that could convince local donors to pledge millions of dollars to help fund the massive construction of a community indoor field house at Steamboat Springs Middle School.

Fast-forward eight months later, the document remains unsigned, and the project’s pursuit has gone on longer than expected.

A Steamboat Springs School Board with members almost entirely different from those who originally gave the nod to go forth with fundraising efforts is in place, and current School Board members expressed skepticism about the logistics of the field house.

Would it be sustainable? Who is funding this venture? What kind of access will the community and school district alike have to the grandiose facility?

Sankey and Lynch admittedly are a bit frustrated, hoping to already have been well into the process with donors and collecting construction bids.

"We basically got the go-ahead form the board in October to go to the next phase, which was figuring out a general design package and where we were going in terms of building costs and operating costs and so forth," Sankey said. "We started down that road. We did a lot of work out of our own pockets and our own time."

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But Lynch said that late this spring, he was told the School Board, with three new members in place, wanted to re-evaluate Sankey's and Lynch's project, citing a lack of comfort with the perception that the fine details of what the building might look like and cost and how it might be managed weren't clear enough.

In late June, the School Board delayed signing a public-private agreement between Sankey and Lynch and the district, resolving to hold a separate workshop nine days later to go through the document line by line with the district's attorney, Mike Holloran, on hand.

The workshop was productive, Superintendent Brad Meeks said after the fact, and the document was sent back with Holloran for final revisions. On Thursday in a special School Board meeting, the agreement document will be voted on by the board and subsequently signed or not signed.

"A lot of what has happened in the last eight months has been productive, because it has forced us to go through it and actually spend more attention to what happens after it gets built," Lynch said.

Building a 'community' facility

Lynch first went in front of the School Board on Aug. 26 to pitch the idea of a multimillion-dollar field house, a building that would mean so much more to the community than a place for the district's athletic teams to get better, he said.

It's been almost a year since that meeting, and the work between now and then has felt like a full-time job for the dads of teenage Sailor athletes.

He and Sankey have dug deep into their own pockets, traveling to places such as Texas, Utah and the Front Range, touring field house facilities in communities similar to Steamboat. They've even gone as far as drafting a floor plan for one model in particular that they think would fit well on the middle school campus.

The basic plan features a 360-foot-long, 210-foot-wide turf field, a weight room, concessions, locker rooms, restrooms and overhead seating suitable for 150 to 200 spectators. It also would feature electronically controlled curtains that would break the field into separate pieces, areas where tenants could rent the real estate after district hours to swing the operating cost.

"The schools are a huge beneficiary of this," Sankey said. "The public-private side of it, during the daytime when school is in session, this is basically their building. They can do with it whatever they choose."

Those not directly benefiting from it, the partners insist, are themselves. Should it be built in the time frame they envision, their teenage children will get access to it for one or two years.

But as active youth athletics volunteers — coaching youth football and lacrosse, among other things — Lynch and Sankey want to give Steamboat kids something to do year round to keep adolescents away from negative influences.

"Kevin and I think that we've got too many kids with few options," Lynch said. "There's nothing for them to do, so when they get bored, they turn to drugs, sex and alcohol. There's nowhere right now for them to go to provide them with better options to make decisions."

Lynch said that if the School Board decides to allow the partners to take a signed document to private donors, the community eventually will get a grandiose facility that has guaranteed access during non-school hours.

And as a fee-based open gym, the more who come, the more revenue is generated to ensure it's a self-sustaining facility, not one that will serve as a rarely used money pit down the line.

"The school district wants to make sure this is self-sustaining, that is, it will pay for itself," Sankey said. "We very strongly believe that with very conservative estimates, we've proven that this will sustain itself through user fees and membership fees."

The next step

If Sankey and Lynch get the board's nod Thursday, they don't plan to waste any time.

And they may have to do some backtracking, again convincing would-be donors from 2013 to hop back on board for a project that could cost anywhere from $6.5 million to $8 million.

The school district has asked for finer details on facility operations and costs, and Superintendent Meeks said they've come a long way in those regards. But without a signed contract, Sankey and Lynch have insisted time and time again, concrete numbers and floor plans can't be generated from builders to hand over to the board.

"We're ready to take those next steps and start putting the money in the bank and start spending that money to develop schematic plans to come to real numbers and be able to then go back and narrow down our options," Sankey said. "For us to go out and get the public to donate to this, they need to know what the public aspect of it is."

They estimate it's at least an eight-month process to build. The district has requested that as part of the agreement, 105 percent of the project's estimated budget be deposited into an account before June 1, 2015.

Lynch said he's heard enough about the hurdles that come with pursuing such a big project. But with no added cost to the public — no raised taxes, no Steamboat Springs City Council approval and no zoning restrictions — the duo is ready to move forward.

"We'd like to at least try," Lynch said. "We are tired of hearing that it can't be done. Why can't we have this? Once and for all, let's find out."

To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email bingersoll@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll

Also at Thursday’s meeting

The board will interview and vote on candidates for its current open seat. Superintendent Brad Meeks said he knows of two or three applicants interested. Applications are due by noon Monday.

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