Our View: Postpone indoor swimming

The Steamboat Springs Health and Recreation Association was right to pull the plug on its expansion plans for the Old Town Hot Springs. It didn't make sense to move forward given the negative feedback from the Steamboat Springs Planning Commission, the City Council and some of the association's members.

But it would be premature to rule out the Health and Recreation Association site as the best place, long-term, for indoor swimming. The truth is, there are so many variables involved in the indoor swimming discussion that such a facility also should be removed, for now, from the discussions about a new city-owned recreation center.

Indoor swimming was one of the catalysts behind the recreation center idea. But the pool is the most expensive component to build and operate in the current recreation center plans. And the split between the Health and Recreation Association and the city's Parks and Recreation Commission about where to put indoor swimming threatens to undercut any chance of getting voters to approve a new center, particularly this fall.

To review, consulting firm Ballard, King and Associates has offered the city a comprehensive, three-part recreation center plan:

Phase 1 would include a gymnasium, a teen center, child care, an elevated track, a multi-purpose room, a kitchen and offices. It would cost about $9.6 million.

Phase 2 would include an indoor lap pool and leisure pool and offices. It would cost $9.65 million to build.

Phase 3 is a field house with an artificial playing surface for soccer and lacrosse. It also includes a climbing wall, racquetball courts and support spaces. It would cost $7.55 million.

Ballard King recommended starting with the first two phases and considering the third later. Instead, we would advise focusing on phases 1 and 3 now while working to resolve the best site for Phase 2 in the future. Here's why:

The combined cost of phases 1 and 3 is $2 million cheaper than the cost of 1 and 2.

Ballard King projected the difference between revenues and costs for each phase. The indoor swimming facility would operate at the largest deficit -- $500,000 to $800,000 a year. Phase 1 is expected to operate at a deficit of $275,000 to $365,000, and Phase 3 is projected to break even or operate at a profit.

Finally, and most important, until the Health and Recreation Association and the Parks and Recreation Commission are on the same page, it's impossible to present a unified plan to voters.

There is merit to the Health and Recreation Association's stance. The facility's outdoor pools already are a tremendous tourism draw, and a steady flow of tourists will be needed to help offset the operational costs of an indoor pool.

Of course, the current Health and Recreation Association site is not big enough to accommodate an indoor pool, and traffic and parking are not ideal. That could change if the adjacent Post Office ever moves, as has been discussed.

The City Council has instructed the Parks and Recreation Commission and the Health and Recreation Association to meet in facilitated discussions about indoor swimming and determine the best site for such a facility. That's the right step to take.

In the meantime, the city can move forward with plans for a recreation center that meets a host of other community needs while saving on construction and operating costs.

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