Serving children to “gray-heads”
By Mark Reaman
A crowd of approximately 20 people from the north end of the valley who passionately want a pool and rec center spoke to the Mt. Crested Butte Downtown Development Authority (DDA) on Monday, September 11 and were told their best shot might be spearheading some sort of partnership with the DDA and the Gunnison County Metropolitan Recreation (Met Rec) District.
The group was there with the hope of using some DDA money that had been freed up with the dissolution of the Biery-Witt Center. Millions of dollars of expected revenue from the DDA had been earmarked for the center.
The board explained that the Biery-Witt figures were based on a potential extending of the DDA until 2046. That has not yet happened and expected revenues until the current end of the DDA in 2026 are closer to $7 million or $8 million.
“That money is anticipated and not in the bank,” said DDA board member and Mt. Crested Butte mayor Todd Barnes, who explained some of the details of the DDA and how it was set to work with the performing arts center. “Canceling Biery-Witt freed up money but the expectation, without any economic crash, is about $7 million more would be generated between now and the end of the DDA’s life in 2026. We should have about $2 million by the end of this year.”
The DDA was discussing other possible uses of the money and parking was a major priority. They have committed just over a million dollars to obtain the land behind the Nordic Inn as part of a planned unit development (PUD) with the new lodge owners. There is expected to be some major work and wetland mitigation as part of that deal. It will contain at least 150 public parking spots.
But the people wanted to advocate for a pool, not parking.
Long-time pool proponent Moss Wagner suggested taking a survey of town citizens to see how they want the DDA to prioritize the funds. “A town this affluent should have what places like Telluride and Gunnison have,” he said. “I’m obviously for the pool but more important, I’d suggest conducting a survey of everybody to see what the citizens want.”
DDA chairman Gary Keiser said an aquatic center was on the list of possibilities for use of DDA funds. But traditionally, such facilities have been expensive to build and to operate.
Town manager Joe Fitzpatrick said a survey was conducted in July 1996 and a Rec Center was high on the list. “So we had a building designed and priced out in 2007 and then in 2009 a firm familiar with such facilities did a feasibility study. In 2009 the building would cost $16 million to build. I’d hate to think what that big building would cost today,” he said. “The feasibility was also dependent on the entire county using it and it had a projected operating deficit of about $500,000 per year with no source to fund that. So the DDA laid that project to the side.”
Wagner said all the entities in the north end of the valley, the town of Crested Butte and Crested Butte South for example, should be expected to pitch in for the project.
DDA board member Janet Farmer said the growth projections from the 2009 study were way off. While the number of children in the upper valley was expected to be about 325 in 2013, the current Crested Butte Community School enrollment is more than 700. “That tells me the study might need updated and a whole new projection could be needed,” Farmer said.
“The Rec Centers that run really, really well, like the ones in the Denver metro area, don’t generate 100 percent of their operating expenses,” said Fitzpatrick. “Probably at least 50 percent of those costs would have to come from a tax or mill levy. There is the Gunnison County Metropolitan Recreation District and in my view that is who should be taking this on. Not the town of Mt. Crested Butte, in my opinion.”
Resident Michael Vaughn suggested relying on a 2009 study was irresponsible. “It is not just people who would live here that would use it,” he said. “When we travel we use them all the time. There are plenty of people who come here and don’t ski and there is nothing for them to do. Before you sell yourselves short, at least ask for a better public comment process. At least do a public survey.”
Board member Al Smith emphasized that their study found a potential Rec Center would be hugely expensive to operate. “It wasn’t just a really bad idea, it was a really, really bad idea,” he said. “When we realized it could bankrupt the town we put it aside so I’m not really in favor of it.”
Cassia Cadenhead has lived in Mt. Crested Butte for five years and she ran down a 10-point list of why it was a good idea to build the aquatic center while staying financially responsible. “I think we can be creative with funding options,” she said. “Growth here has been tremendous since 2009 so it is certainly worth updating the study. Just look at the growth in the community school. The demographics are also changing here. You can earn a city salary and live in paradise with (internet) opportunities. The center could also include underground parking.
“We are the only major ski resort in Colorado without a public pool,” Cadenhead continued. “It doesn’t have to be ginormous. But it provides activities for down days that help make a good vacation for guests. With the Trailhead possibly leaving, the childcare situation on the mountain will be very different. Also, local kids would use it and it is an alternative for kids to stay out of trouble. It can be a cradle to grave opportunity for the community.”
Keir Wark, who has an eight-year-old son, agreed. “As he gets older I see fewer places for kids to hang out,” she said. “This would be an opportunity to have a place for kids to hang out. It would be safe with constructive things for them to do.”
Trudy Frazier said as some of the population ages, a rec center would be a draw. “It is good for seniors. Not everyone can ski and hike like they used to,” she noted. “It is not a bad thing to have a gym to walk around as more gray-heads move here. We use the one in Gunnison and it does the job but traveling there can be a drag. A rec center here would help the health and wealth of the area.”
Janae Pritchett asked the board to at least consider the idea anew. “Before anyone says no, open your minds and say maybe,” she asked. “Set up a committee to look further into this. We’ll help. Our family goes to the Gunnison Rec Center and every time we are there, probably half of the people are from Crested Butte.”
Annie McFarland said given the number of people who incur some sort of injury recreating in the area, a pool would be used as a valuable place for rehab.
“I didn’t mean to be negative so I would love it if you could find a way to make it happen,” said Smith. “But a big part of that means writing checks or working to pass a tax. This board by itself can’t make it happen.”
“I personally agree with most of what has been said here today,” added Keiser.
“There is an obvious interest and desire for this in the community,” said Farmer. “I’m not sure we are the right entity to spearhead the effort and do it. That might fall more on the Met Rec District. But I’m open to more study. It might be worth a conversation between us and Met Rec. It will take public organization.”
“I too am open to the idea and updating the study,” agreed board member Michael Kraatz.
“It is worth pursuing with the Met Rec District,” concluded Keiser.