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Soldotna council discusses capital projects

Posted: February 14, 2013 - 8:51pm

The Soldotna City Council discussed capital budget-related projects Wednesday during a special work session. The potential projects would use hundreds of thousands of dollars of the city’s capital projects budget but they will guide the future of the city.

City manger Mark Dixon, who traveled to Juneau with city engineer Kyle Kornelis in an effort to strengthen the city’s ability to obtain grants, held the work session after the council expressed an interest in being more involved in the overall process of capital projects.

The council’s comments will help the city staff place energy where it’s most needed, Dixon said.

Larger projects like a renovation of the Soldotna Sports Center and the construction of a convention center were discussed at length, as well as the re-appropriation of already obtained grants. All of the ideas discussed still are in the planning process.

The first project discussed was the refurbishing and repurposing of the city’s sports center, which is currently used for small gatherings and hockey. The city obtained a $40,000 grant to replace windows and doors. Repairing the roof also is listed as a top priority, which is estimated to cost $950,000.

It’s a 30-year-old facility, and it “looks 30 years old,” Dixon said. The city manager asked the council how they’d like to see the center evolve.

Vice Mayor Brenda Hartman said she thinks the public views the center as no more than a hockey arena. That needs to change, she said, so an overhaul might be in order.

Council members Regina Daniels and Nancy Eoff suggested the upgrades should expand the center’s user groups, like using the conference rooms for weddings. But factors like bathroom sharing among hockey attendants and wedding parties come into play. The idea was to start making rational decisions about the evolution of the center during the next 30 years, Dixon said.

Council member John Czarnezki said he favors expanding the conference space, but the public’s input is needed. He said he has received public comments on more than one occasion about the center’s costs. The council should ask the public what they want and how much they’re willing to pay, he said.

Dixon suggested drafting a survey, similar to the survey being used for the city’s recreation and trails master plan.

According to Parks & Recreation Director Andrew Carmichael, $4.12 per capita goes toward the center, and its 86 percent funded by property tax. The administration’s rough order of magnitude, or preliminary projected cost, of a complete renovation of the center is $4 million.

The second item on the draft plan — and the second most discussed topic — was the possibility of a combination conference and visitors center being built within the city.

The city needs to examine new avenues for keeping revenue flowing during the winter, Dixon said. Soldotna Chamber of Commerce President Jim Stogsdill, who attended the work session, agreed and spoke in favor of new buildings.

Stogsdill said the chamber is considering sites and estimating project costs for a conference center. The chamber would like to incorporate the projects into the Envision Soldotna 2030 plan.

“People would come, I’m certain of it,” he said. Stogsdill estimated that the chamber receives 25 to 35 requests a year from groups wanting to hold conferences in Soldotna; they change their minds when they hear about the current options.

Dixon outlined two options in a capital projects draft plan — renovating the existing conference rooms at the sports center and build a conference center adjacent to the hockey-centric building, or expand the conference rooms and defer the possibility of a convention center to the chamber.

He further planned to form a committee with the chamber and return to council within 90 day with suggestions.

During the work session, the council also discussed road projects, such as paving N. Aspen Street; city hall renovations to the tune of $185,000; and a one million gallon reservoir, which will replace a recently failed reservoir.

The re-allocation of current grants was discussed as well. Funds totaling $39,700 for a Soldotna “Y” beautification project have sat in an account for two years, and the administration is recommending the use of those funds for a gazebo at Parker Park.

The administration is recommending a “language amendment” for the Redoubt Street improvement project, which carries a price tag of about $2.1 million. While much work is needed on Redoubt Street, Binkley Street has deteriorated faster than the city anticipated. This will allow both projects to be completed at the same time.

“Hopefully, the appropriated funds will cover both roads,” city engineer Kornelis said.

After the work session, the council held its regular meeting in which it passed two resolutions unanimously.

The council passed a resolution waiving formal bidding procedures and granting the final design phase contract of Soldotna Creek Park to Wince-Corthell-Bryson Consulting Engineers. The company has worked on all previous phases of the project, Kornelis said.

A resolution was passed allocating $35,370 for professional design services for a re-roof project of the Soldotna Police Department.

Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at jerzy.shedlock@peninsulaclarion.com.

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