Park needs $500,000 bailout | AspenTimes.com

Park needs $500,000 bailout

A midvalley recreation district doesn’t have enough money to build all the amenities it planned at a new park and sports complex in El Jebel.The Crown Mountain Park and Recreation District is asking Eagle County for $500,000 so it can complete the first phase of its extensive project.”What it boils down to is we want to build more park than we can afford,” said Mark Fuller, a consultant with the recreation district.Voters approved creation of the district and $5.1 million in bonds in November 2002. Inflation, unanticipated construction costs and other factors have forced the recreation district’s board of directors to “trim around the edges” of the plan, Fuller said.About $35,000 was saved by redesigning the main playground. Another $100,000 was cut by reducing the landscaping, benches and shelters.It’s possible that more drastic cuts may be needed, according to correspondence between the district and county commissioners.”In fact, some of the facilities planned for Phase I of the Park may be in jeopardy depending on construction costs over the next several months,” said a letter by Dan Scherer, chairman of the Crown Mountain Park and Recreation District’s board of directors.But Fuller stressed that the heart of the planned park will still be completed and available for use by 2006. Amenities that appear safe bets for next year are one additional ball field and one additional soccer field, tennis and basketball courts, picnic and lawn areas.”It’s not like there won’t be a park there. It just might not be as nice and complete as we wanted it,” Fuller said.’Champagne park, beer budget’Fuller strongly denied that the need for additional funds to complete the first phase of the park represents poor fiscal planning by the district. He said the district was required to go through a costly, time-consuming review to make sure its proposal conformed to Eagle County land-use codes.Since it had to take that step, it put all possible amenities into the proposal, knowing it might not have the funds to build them all. For example, the district sought and received approval for a skateboard park and an amphitheater for community events but didn’t envision including them in the first phase.But by getting approval for those components, the district won’t have to go back to the county if and when it has funds for those amenities, Fuller noted.As a result, the district ended up with a “champagne park on a beer budget,” he said.It remains to be seen if the county commissioners will contribute further to the party. They haven’t responded to the request for $500,000. They said it would be considered during deliberations on the 2006 budget.Crown Mountain Park already has one soccer field, which was built by Eagle County, and a baseball field in use. Work started at a feverish pace earlier this year on site preparation for the other amenities.A spreadsheet sent to Eagle County shows earth work and grading alone will cost more than $1 million for the first phase. It will cost another $531,000 for utilities and $585,000 to install the irrigation system.Those three items alone account for $2.1 million or about 41 percent of the funds that voters authorized in November 2002.Park was long time comingPerhaps the Crown Mountain Park was destined to face funding issues. Nothing in its recent history has been easy.Pitkin and Eagle counties acquired the property in a land swap with the U.S. Forest Service in the early 1990s. The deal was opposed by some people who said mining claims that belonged to them were being illegally traded by Pitkin County in the land swap. The swap has withstood legal challenges.Once the 120 acres were in the counties’ hands, midvalley residents fought for years over how the land should be used. There was eventually a compromise on a master plan. The resulting application was approved by the Eagle County commissioners in 2004.Some people who haven’t been intimately involved in the lengthy approval process have questioned why it has taken the district so long to build a park that people can use. Some Basalt Town Council members, for example, openly criticized the time needed to implement the plan after voters approved funds in November 2002.Scherer’s letter to the county commissioners suggests that the recreation district may go back to voters at some unspecified time for funds to complete the park. “No specific amounts of schedules have been determined, but the District Board recognizes that additional bonding and an increased mill levy may be an element in an overall funding strategy to complete the Park,” Scherer wrote.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com