The Soldotna City Council unanimously voted to change the name of the Soldotna Sports Center to the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex at Wednesday’s council meeting, but that doesn’t mean the council members are onboard with all the proposed changes for the facility.
At a capital improvements plan work session before the council meeting, council discussed the master plan concept, headed by Casey Planning and Design. The plan for the No. 1 ranked project on the capital improvements list is available on the City of Soldotna’s website.
The draft adds 96,007 net square feet to the current facility, for a total of 143,253 square feet. The ice arena will remain where it is, with the expansion extending into the building’s eastside parking lot. The ground floor middle section of the complex is drafted to have an expanded conference area, a locker and dressing room and concessions, among other additions. On the other side of the conference area, a field house is laid out with a turf field and basketball, volleyball and multipurpose courts as well as a teen center.
The plan is designed with an elevated running track above the turf and courts. For a price of $23-27 million, which includes a new roof and other maintenance repairs, the expanded and updated facility can be constructed.
However, council voted to postpone adopting the plan to its next regular Oct. 9 meeting to have time to discuss and revise the project.
At the workshop, council member Dale Bagley said he wants the council to give direction to Nancy Casey, of Casey Planning and Design, and to City Manger Mark Dixson to “try to get this (project) down into the $10-15 million range.”
Bagley said he “really” wants to see an indoor soccer field at the complex, but he doesn’t think courts are necessary in the field house because every school has courts. He would also like to see a convention center and a teen center built elsewhere in the city.
Council member Brenda Hartman said a teen center is proposed to go in the previous location for Bishop’s Attic, and she doesn’t know what future expansion is possible at that site. She doesn’t think constructing a teen center accounts for a “huge portion” of the sports complex project’s cost, she said.
The conference area could be shrunk, but space needs to be available for teams and groups to meet, Hartman said.
She said the courts are for everyone in the Kenai Peninsula Borough with the intention to get people active throughout the year, but perhaps the size of the courts can be reduced.
“I think we would get quite a bit of attention coming to the Kenai Peninsula,” Hartman said, “if we were able to have this facility here. … This is a great adjunct to what we are currently trying to have in our area.”
In a Thursday interview with the Clarion, Casey, Dixson and Soldotna Parks and Recreation Director Andrew Carmichael agreed that council’s decision to postpone the plan’s approval was not unexpected.
As to the specific conference center, teen center and gymnasium issues council raised at the work session, Casey said, based on the comments, the conference center would probably not grow in the expansion. Having a teen center near recreation is “very attractive” for teens, but it can always be phased in later.
She said even with courts in schools, there’s still a need because the gymnasiums are overbooked at certain times of the year, and they’re not easy to rent for non-school activities.
The needs of people in the area have changed from when the building was built in 1983, Carmichael said. It was built for the area’s ice arena needs at the time. Now parents are diving kids to Anchorage to use turf fields, he said.
The need isn’t only for turf, though. The recreation culture has grown, Casey said, especially with race events. And those runners and bikers are active year round, Carmichael said.
Not only does the plan allow for recreation diversification, but it also allows for economic growth.
“It’s huge that you can’t attract the type of workers to keep a community economically strong if you don’t have those amenities,” Casey said. “People move to places that have the stuff. This is a national trend.”
Keeping the community’s needs in mind, they will consider council’s comments and “shave off some of the fat” to produce a revised master plan concept, Casey said. Recreation square footage will shrink, but Casey said they will still try to accommodate the range of needs.
“We’re not leaving any user groups out,” Casey said. “We’re not saying, ‘OK, if we have to cut, we’re going to cut that user group.’ No, we’re going to kind of trim everybody down.”
However, the team can’t trim down the user groups too much or the amenities won’t be utilized. Whatever the center provides, “it needs to be something that people will want to use, and fits the needs,” Casey said.
Even with the cutbacks the group is thinking of making, Dixson said, he doesn’t think the project cost will drop to Bagley’s desired $10-15 million range.
Dixson said the project will be presented in Juneau as these are the needs addressed in the project and here is the price tag to execute the plan, “how can you help us?”
“Then whatever funding we get is going to determine how many needs are going to be filled and to what extent those needs are going to be filled,” Dixson said.
The council will meet Oct. 2 for a work session about the design and price tag for the complex.
Kaylee Osowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.