A clock and a hard place | SteamboatToday.com

A clock and a hard place

Community Center, library debate urgent for all

Peggy Dunning, nutritionist for the Routt County Council on Aging, serves lunch to lifelong Routt County rancher Dave Sandelin, left, and Steamboat Springs resident Bob Carl on Tuesday at the Steamboat Springs Community Center. High construction bids could stall completion of a new community center, which Dunning said would leave the senior citizen lunches without a home. "I don't have any idea where we'll go," she said Wednesday.
Brian Ray

— The future of the new Steamboat Springs Community Center, way over budget and well behind schedule, suddenly is very unclear.

Steamboat Springs City Council members are giving very different answers about whether the city should allocate up to $1 million from in reserve funds to meet the escalating construction cost of the new center. Meanwhile, users of the current community center and the adjacent Bud Werner Memorial Library fear the city is coming close to reneging on promises made to them.

On Tuesday night, the City Council reacted with shock when the lowest bid for the new center came in at $1 million more than anticipated. Council members tabled any decisions on center funding for one week.

A new community center is necessary because the current center must be torn down to make room for the library’s voter-approved, $11.4 million expansion. The council had promised to have a new center built by the time the current center is torn down. Demolition could come as soon as July 1.

Councilman Ken Brenner expressed fears that library officials – who plan to take bids in May – will encounter high construction costs and then decide not to move forward with the expansion.

“That would be a really bad thing to find out two months from now,” Brenner said. He called spending an additional $1 million on the new community center “ridiculous.”

Fox Construction of Steamboat Springs has bid the community center project at nearly $4.1 million. That amount is more than $1 million more than the community center’s total budget. Tom Fox, owner of Fox Construction, told City Council members that if they don’t decide on community center funding until after hearing the library bids in May, the community center project would then need to be re-bid, almost certainly at an even higher cost.

The new, 8,400-square-foot community center is to be built on a 2.3-acre site adjacent to the Stock Bridge Transit Center west of downtown Steamboat.

Whether the City Council decides to fully fund the building will affect users of the current center, primarily the local American Legion chapter and Routt County Council on Aging; library users, staff and officials; and Steamboat Springs taxpayers.

City Finance Director Don Taylor has said Steamboat will have more than $3 million in unallocated reserves at the end of 2007, without increasing funds for the community center.

Tuesday night, Councilman Loui Antonucci expressed doubts about the building’s rising price tag.

“I don’t know that I’m of a mind to approve a $4 million budget,” Antonucci said. “We really need to be prudent with taxpayers’ money. If we spend another million on (the community center), what are we going to be giving up in the next five years?”

Councilman Towny Anderson has been an outspoken opponent of the Stock Bridge site and community center plans throughout the process.

On the other hand, Council members Paul Strong, Karen Post and Steve Ivancie support moving ahead with the project.

“I think if we delay it another six months, it could cost another half million dollars,” Strong said, echoing an argument made by Ivancie.

City Council President Susan Dellinger could not be reached Wednesday.

A “no” vote on the additional community center funding, according to Deputy City Manager Wendy DuBord, would require architects to “re-design the project and reduce the square footage,” causing a delay of up to four months. That would push completion into the summer of 2008 and necessitate “immediate negotiations with the library district.”

Library director Chris Painter said Monday “additional delays on the community center project : would likely impact the library’s timeline,” but would not elaborate on whether library officials plan to break ground July 1, the earliest allowable date according to the library’s agreement with the city.

Library staff members are eagerly awaiting an expansion that would triple the size of the current building.

“We need a new library tomorrow, not in one or two years,” said Maureen Smith at the circulation desk in the children’s library.

On Monday afternoon, more than 30 local senior citizens shared a free lunch at the current community center, one of four weekly lunches prepared by Council on Aging nutritionist Peggy Dunning.

Thelma Whitmer worked as a postmaster in Clark from 1970 to 1983, while raising five children with her husband in North Routt County. During lunch, Whitmer said she doesn’t expect to see a new community center any time soon.

“Political promises leave you hanging a lot,” she said. “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

– To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4203

or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com

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