Recreation center talk drives officials to action

Resident challenges 'gross misuse of taxpayer funds'

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Elected officials are finally responding to a request residents have been inundating them with for years.

Several groups have approached and the Moffat County Commissioners and the Craig City Council asking for a recreation center. Now, elected officials are taking steps to make that request a reality.

"It's a long way away, but we're getting started," Craig Parks and Recreation Director Dave Pike said. "We still have a lot of bridges to cross."

The city and county have partnered to establish a task force and create a master plan that will investigate the need for and the feasibility of building a combination recreation and conference center in Craig. The master plan will also address possible funding sources for the project.

The Moffat County Board of Commissioners invited representatives from the Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) to Craig last summer. The commissioners wanted recommendations on where the county stood with its recreational offerings and where it could go.

Managers of other recreation facilities along the western slope accompanied DOLA representatives. The group prepared a report which elected officials are now taking steps to follow.

"We wanted to take a look and find out if it's even a possibility," Moffat County Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos said. "It is."

In their report, the visitors praise the outdoor recreational facilities offered by both the city and the county, including the City Park, Woodbury Park and Loudy-Simpson Park.

"Moffat County and the city of Craig have extraordinary outdoor facilities that are well-maintained and seem well suited to accommodate a wide variety of programs," the report states.

But they say the county is lacking a consolidated, indoor recreational and conference facility. Though there are several facilities offering conference or recreational opportunities Shadow Mountain Clubhouse, the Moffat County Fairgrounds or The Center of Craig the separation of the facilities makes communication difficult and leads to unnecessary competition for venue space and event attendance. It also increases costs for both users and the entities that maintain the facilities, DOLA representative Tim Sarmo said.

He suggested the city consider constructing a multi-use recreation and conference center on the south side of the City Pool in the City Park. Then, a seasonal cover could be placed on the lap pool, making it an indoor facility in the winter. A recreation center in the City Park, Sarmo said, could be connected to the Moffat County Fairgrounds with a trail system, linking two independent complexes.

DOLA officials made several other suggestions:

The city and county should combine their parks and recreation programs.

"We need to get all these players together on the same page," Pike said.

He believes enhanced communication will eliminate a lot of the duplication now seen in recreational offerings.

Raftopoulos agreed that some consolidation was necessary.

"We always want to make government more efficient," she said.

The city, county, Moffat County School District and Colorado Northwestern Community College (CNCC) should inventory and evaluate all existing facilities to address present and potential uses, long-term capital needs and ongoing operational and maintenance costs.

A task force with broad community representation should be established.

The duties of the task force would be considering locations for a new multi-purpose recreation center and identify sources of funding for construction and operation costs of a new recreation center.

The city and county have agreed to partner on the project. Both contributed money toward a grant match. The grant, if awarded, will be used to pay consultants to create a parks and recreation master plan.

The city will know in July if it has been awarded the grant.

Pike hopes a consultant will begin the master plan in September and complete it in April 2001.

Community meetings will be held during the planning process and a community survey will be completed.

"We may find that no one here even wants a recreation center," Pike said, "but I believe a recreation center will probably be the community's first priority. We'll let the community tell us what they want."

In 1996, a community survey was completed and residents had a lot to say about recreational opportunities in Craig.

"A community recreation center is a must," was one reply, "The community can benefit greatly socially and economically by establishing a comprehensive recreation facility," was another.

Nearly four percent of those responding said they planned to leave Craig because of the lack of indoor recreation. Indoor recreation ranked sixth of 19 suggested services needed in Craig.

While the master plan is being completed, a task force will be created to help with that process. The city, county, school district, CNCC, service clubs, industry, residents and several other groups will be asked to sit on the panel.

"This task force is going to be the main force that drives this whole thing," Raftopoulos said.

Pike said one of the biggest hurdles in building a recreation center is funding it and to do that, all entities will have to cooperate.

"On their own, none of the four entities can do anything on a project this massive. It's going to take the resources of all four entities," he said. "I think with enough support, this could become a reality."

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