Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Hockey changing room project discussion delayed

Bids higher than expected but…

By Mark Reaman

Whether or not the town of Crested Butte moves forward with the construction of new changing facilities for hockey should be decided at the August 4 council meeting. Debate over the issue at the Monday, July 20 meeting ended with a continuation of the discussion so all seven council members could weigh in. Council members Candice Bradley and Chris Haver did not participate in the July 20 discussion.

Town staff is recommending the capital project be put on hold due to budget and staff time concerns during the current coronavirus crisis, but council members appear torn. Bids for the capital project came in higher than anticipated, and while money is an issue, the idea of putting it off another year when the rooms might potentially help both the hockey and Nordic ski programs this coming winter has council on the fence.

While $232,500 in town funds is earmarked specifically for the project from money gained during the Whatever USA event and grants from the Gunnison County Metropolitan Recreation (Met Rec) District, the three submitted bids exceeded that amount.

According to Parks and Rec director Janna Hansen, the ultimate cost for the project—between the lowest construction bid along with essential items the town would have to provide outside the bid including benches and rubber flooring—was coming in at about $278,000. That did not include the original seating located on the roof of the new changing rooms but that could be added later.

“We have the opportunity to get some locals some work and keep this recreation happening. It can help these two important non-profits moving but I understand the hesitation with it being more than what is in the budget,” said council member Will Dujardin.

Hansen said that while nothing is certain with what will be allowed this winter under COVID-19 restrictions, her understanding was that the state regulations now in place would likely not allow the new rooms to be fully occupied. That could change if the state approves a variance requested by the county. She said if the current county restriction level is increased from the Blue risk level to Yellow, playing hockey wouldn’t be allowed at the rink.

“It seems like right now we are trying to help local businesses and the business on Elk Avenue. In winter I’m attached to the idea of doing something similar and this could give them another tool to help them and make up some of the expenses coming up,” said council member Mona Merrill. “It seems it could help.”

Hansen said if the state allowed the county’s variance request, having the changing rooms could help both the hockey and Nordic programs since current changing rooms are in the Big Mine Warming House.

West Elk Hockey Association (WEHA) director Wendy Buchanan said the group was hopeful the bids would have been closer to the funds budgeted, “But we would still like to see this go ahead. It seems there is a lot of hockey, things like hockey camps, going on throughout the state right now. I’m not sure of the latest state restrictions but we are not getting the word from state officials that there won’t be a hockey season this year.”

Citizen Kent Cowherd chimed in that he didn’t think it was a “good choice of the town to spend the money on the project right now. The more responsible approach is to delay it a year and see where we are then.”

Crested Butte Nordic executive director Christie Hicks told the council the Nordic board is looking at plans to not let people in the Warming House at all this winter. “Unless we go to the Green risk assessment level or stay in the Blue, people won’t be allowed in the current Warming House because of the space. So hockey players will have to come dressed.”

“I look at the new changing rooms as an opportunity for having more physical distancing than is available in the current building,” said mayor Jim Schmidt.

“If doing the changing rooms is going to happen sooner or later, I would prefer it to be sooner,” said Merrill. “If we can use [the funds], in February it will be a success.”

Council member Laura Mitchell said while she was hesitant to spend the money under the current circumstances, she was frustrated with the project continually being put off. “If we do it, we’ll be glad and it will be behind us. But I’m not sure what the best decision is right now.”

Council member Mallika Magner said she was on BOZAR when the project was approved and she described it as a great addition. “But the Whatever USA money and the Met Rec grants will be there when we get back on our feet with whatever happens with COVID. We don’t know what July sales tax numbers will be and I’d rather tighten our belts and be conservative,” she said.

“If we put this off, the price will go up,” stated Dujardin. “But with two council members missing, we should perhaps wait two weeks to have a deeper discussion.”

The rest of the council agreed and the conversation will again take place at the August 4 council meeting.

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