CB council okays Big Mine changing room capital project

Split vote ends with award to Black Dragon Development for fall construction

by Mark Reaman

Despite a strong recommendation by the town staff to not move ahead with the project, the Crested Butte Town Council voted 4-3 to award a construction bid to Black Dragon Development to construct hockey changing rooms at Big Mine Ice Arena this year. Construction prep began August 17 and the anticipated completion date is December 1.

The project had been discussed several times in the last few months with various council members changing their position on the matter, given the situation with the coronavirus. But on Monday, August 4, the council took a vote and narrowly agreed to move forward with the project this year.

Crested Butte Parks and Recreation director Janna Hansen told the council that the bids received all exceeded the $238,500 set aside for the project from Whatever USA and Met Rec grant funds. She said current public health restrictions in place because of the coronavirus crisis would likely not allow the changing rooms to be used at full capacity unless drastic changes are made.

“To be candid, we went through a number of budget cuts earlier in the year because of COVID-19 and postponed many projects. We are also not hiring and so we are down in manpower,” said Hansen. “The question is, is this the priority for funding in 2020? I’ve been working on it for six years so am personally excited, but professionally, this is a tough one, given the town circumstances. Is this the best use of town money and resources? Is this the time to do it? That’s the question for you.”

The staff memo to the Town Council listed a dozen projects or staff hirings that had been postponed due to the budget cutbacks in place to deal with the coronavirus situation. The staff recommendation also urged that priority should be given to the “maintenance of existing facilities and staff in lieu of adding amenities and overtaxing staff during uncertain times in the middle of a pandemic.”

“It is a really tough one,” said council member Chris Haver. “The community has been wanting and needing this for a while but a lot of unknowns are out there for the town right now.”

“It is a mixed bag for sure,” said council member Laura Mitchell. “The staff is convincing me we shouldn’t do this right now. I’m leaning toward a no vote, especially if we can’t use [the changing rooms] under COVID restrictions.”

“Maintenance of the facility will be a stretch for staff, as will cleaning the changing rooms,” said Hansen. “It would be a strain on staff with COVID.”

“It keeps coming up because it seems like money was specifically earmarked for this,” said council member Mona Merrill. “It’s been on the books six years and at the last meeting it was obvious that if we put it off again it will just be more expensive next time. I’m worried that if we keep putting it off, the money will get lost and it will be another six years before it gets done.”

“I share some of Mona’s feelings,” added council member Will Dujardin. “I feel we should to try to put the hockey and Nordic organizations in a better position for the coming winter. I also like that it would bring some money to help put locals to work. I’m still in favor of doing this and want to take care of it as soon as we can.”

“The options are either to go ahead now or to put it off a year. I’m encouraged by the amount of the Real Estate Transfer Tax that is coming in that is earmarked for capital projects in town,” said Crested Butte mayor Jim Schmidt, referring to the RETT income being ahead of the 2020 budget. “I’ve struggled with this for six years so am also in favor of it.”

Council member Mallika Magner reiterated concerns with the budget and encouraged putting the project off until 2021. She made a motion to delay the project until such time the town and staff were in more solid financial and manpower positions. No one seconded that motion.

Dujardin moved to award the bid to Black Dragon Development. “It doesn’t feel like the risk is huge but the payoff could be bigger,” he said.

Council passed that motion with Dujardin, Schmidt, Merrill and Candice Bradley voting for it. Haver, Magner and Mitchell voted against it.

Black Dragon will work with the staff on a project not to exceed $268,000 and may change the building material used for the rooms. A seating area originally designed for the roof of the changing rooms will not be included in this initial construction project but could be added at a later date.

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