Thinking new changing rooms could help with winter sports potential
by Mark Reaman
The Crested Butte Town Council is considering one major new project this year, even in the time of financial cutbacks due to the coronavirus situation. Town staff will be asking for bids to construct new hockey changing rooms in Big Mine Ice Arena.
Currently, the hockey changing rooms are located in a tight Nordic Warming House but the new proposal places separate rooms inside the Big Mine Ice Rink. Council members hope to decide whether to proceed with the project by late July when they get hard bid numbers on the construction costs and hopefully have an idea of how summer sales tax revenues are trending.
The idea came up in a financial report to the council and both Crested Butte finance director Rob Zillioux and town manager Dara MacDonald recommended not spending the money under the current circumstances. While the town has earmarked $197,500 in Whatever USA money and $35,000 from a Gunnison County Metropolitan Recreation District grant for the specific changing room project, an earlier bid came in at about $267,000 to build just the rooms and $305,000 if spectator seating was included on the roof.
“The staff is exercising caution,” said Zillioux. “The budget with the funds we have is $232,500. Every time you add something new you have to consider what it costs to take care of it. If it is built, there is no money to maintain it. Under the circumstances, my opinion is we should hold off until we know what is going to happen with this pandemic and sales tax revenues. Plus, our facilities staff is down a person and we aren’t hiring anyone right now.”
The staff estimated initial annual maintenance costs to be about $1,400.
“Town sales tax is down around 21 percent so far this year and sales tax is a big part of our operations budget. It is hard to take on new facilities when the town is struggling to maintain what we have,” said MacDonald. “We would advise stabilizing revenues before building new things.”
Mayor Jim Schmidt disagreed with the staff’s advice and said the town should move forward. “This has been hanging out there for years,” he said. “The current warming house with the changing rooms is a cluster when it is used by both hockey and Nordic participants. Most of the money to build it has been allocated for that project and the idea of someone local building it and getting some work during this time all makes me want to go ahead with the project.”
“I feel like the Nordic Center saved me at the end of the winter when the virus restrictions hit,” said council member Mona Merrill. “Is it something we can revisit in a month? I’d like to see both Nordic and hockey function at a better capacity this winter.”
“Will we even be allowed to play hockey this winter? We don’t know,” said council member Will Dujardin. “But it could provide more space for everyone. I also don’t like that it has been hanging around so long.”
“I see the benefits but does the staff have the bandwidth to do this?” asked council member Chris Haver. “It’s the first time I’ve thought about the staff being too limited to oversee this. Is it ridiculous to ask this of the staff with everything else going on?”
MacDonald said the staff could oversee the project with some moving around of other projects. “We will shuffle around priorities to match those of the council,” she said.
Zillioux said the town had received only one bid when initially proposed but under the changing circumstances, more contractors might be interested in the project.
Dujardin suggested that the West Elk Hockey Association (WEHA) and Crested Butte Nordic might be able to help supplement the maintenance costs.
Council member Mallika Magner asked what the town would have to cut to make up the difference between money available and a bid higher than that budget. She also indicated the higher cost of including the seating area might be worth it.
Zillioux said the budget had been trimmed to the bone as a result of the coronavirus situation but staff could comb through some capital purchases still on the books. “Staff is really lean and under pressure right now,” he said.
Merrill suggested rebidding the project, seeing what the cost came in at and then reevaluating at the project in a month or six weeks. “I feel like it’s early enough to do that and still get it done for this winter.”
WEHA executive director Wendy Buckhanan said the organization was optimistic and planning for a hockey season this winter. “If we are still under social distancing restrictions, the new locker rooms make that easier. We agree that having the seating area would be lovely but we would like to talk more about maybe adjusting the plan and rebidding it with the hope of reducing the cost to fit within the budget,” she said.
“We totally understand the concerns of moving ahead with a capital project in these circumstances,” added Crested Butte Nordic executive director Christie Hicks. “But Crested Butte Nordic feels this can help all of the programs, including ours, that need more space. We would love to see it happen this year. The money is there and it would allow more social distancing in the warming house.”
“Are the winter programs at risk without these changing rooms?” asked Magner.
“That is one fear, given COVID restrictions,” answered Buckhanan. “We are very limited in the current area. It would give us a fighting chance if the restrictions come down.”
MacDonald said the new changing rooms could be initially built without seating; seating could be added later. It might add to the ultimate cost. “It is a very simple structure,” she said.
The majority of the council agreed to move forward and have the staff put out a bid proposal. The idea is to see the new numbers and perhaps get a feel for summer sales tax revenues and then make a decision at the July 20 meeting.