Eleanor Hasenbeck: From riding in a cop car to driving a snowplow, City 101 offers hands-on learning
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Each year, the city of Steamboat Springs puts on City 101, a program that offers an in-depth look at how the city functions. In about eight sessions, participants explore facets of every city department, from driving a snowplow to trying to work through the puzzle of building new developments within existing city limits and zoning code.
I count myself lucky to have participated in this year’s program. I learned that bus drivers are miracle workers in their ability to parallel park at a bus stop on Lincoln Avenue. I squashed nearly every traffic cone on the fake bus route we drove at the Transit Operations Center.
I learned that once you flush a toilet, millions of tiny bacteria help break down your waste until what comes out of the wastewater treatment plant is pure water again, and that the scoria used on a snowy Steamboat street is mined from an ancient dead volcano near McCoy.
City 101 allowed me to ride along with Steamboat Springs Police, crash into ice bumper cars at Howelsen Ice Arena, drive a snowplow, walk through a simulated structure fire and pretend to step into the shoes of city planners and engineers.
It also taught me more obscure facts about what it takes to operate a city than I can list here, but here are some highlights.
The city clerk keeps track of the city council minutes … even from the turn of the century
City Clerk Julie Franklin keeps the minutes of nearly every Steamboat Springs City Council meeting, and when she misses one for sickness or vacation, you can bet that another staff member in her office is taking notes at the dais. These minutes are available at steamboatsprings.net, and it takes far less time to read the minutes than to sit through a City Council meeting.
You won’t find them online, but the approximately 100-year-old minutes of the very first Steamboat Springs Town Council meeting are in a box in the clerk’s office.
If you want to see them, you’ll likely have to say please, wear a hazmat suit and hold your breath when you look at them.
Want to know how the city is spending money? Check OpenGov.
The city uploads a ton of data to its OpenGov website, where you can look at interactive graphs with updated reports about monthly spending, annual spending, the number of parking tickets, specific checkbook transactions and more. There are specific data sets about spending on the new combined Sheriff’s Office and Police Station, how the city has spent 2A Trails money and how much the city receives in sales tax revenue.
To see these graphs, visit steamboatsprings.net/596/OpenGov-By-The-Numbers.
The city fleets department is secretly running this town
There is a slew of unsung heroes in the city’s Public Works Department who keep our streets striped and (mostly) snow-free, prevent pollution in our air and water, engineer our sidewalks, repair our streetlights and treat our wastewater. While these roles are certainly under-appreciated, these employees do interface with the public on occasion.
The Fleets Division is largely an internal division. With the exception of transit buses, they keep all of the city’s vehicles running. While that doesn’t sound important at first, it’s critical to operating nearly every other city department. Fleets wires up the emergency lights atop our police cars, fire engines and ambulances. Fleets keeps our snowplows operating. Fleets repairs the snowcats that groom Nordic trails at Howelsen.
And not only do they have the mechanical know-how to fix the Planning Department’s code enforcement SUV, they also fix the Howelsen Ice Arena Zamboni, snowcats, fire engines, excavators and those bucket trucks the city uses to put up banners on Lincoln Avenue. Essentially, if it moves and has a city of Steamboat logo on the side, the city Fleet Department can fix it.
River water makes better snow than tap water
It takes a lot of snow to operate Howelsen Hill Ski Area and cover the streets during Winter Carnival Street Events.
The most efficient way to make snow is with river water. Water freezes into snow more easily when there are tiny particles of sediment from the Yampa River to condense around. With treated water, though, snowmakers add their own small particles to kick start the process of building a snowflake.
A bus manufacturer engineered cupholders for Steamboat Springs Transit buses
Apparently, before Steamboat, no bus system asked the bus manufacturer Gillig for cup holders. The manufacturer produces transit buses for organizations nationwide, including Steamboat.
Transit Manager Jonathan Flint said that when Steamboat Springs Transit sent the company specifications for a new bus, the city asked for a cup holder for the bus driver. Cup holders aren’t standard for transit buses, so Gillig needed more information.
Ultimately, they designed a cup holder specifically for Steamboat Springs Transit, engineered to hold a 32-ounce fountain cup with a slot in the side that allows it to hold a mug, too.
There are dozens of other interesting facts I now know about the city because of City 101. If I run into you, I’d be happy to share more, but the best way to learn these is applying to participate in City 101 yourself. You, too, can learn the intricacies of operating a city and run over traffic cones in a hybrid transit bus.
Each City 101 class is made up half of community members and half city employees, and it’s a great way to learn how to engage and make a change within Steamboat. The city posts applications for the program around October.
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Routt County’s Human Resources Coalition has outlined a three-year plan to help vulnerable county residents, putting particular focus on affordable housing, transit and mental health.