Sat, Aug. 17

Proposed recreation and aquatics center: Part 1
Current deteriorating facilities vs. proposed, 'state-of-the-art' 60,000 square-foot center

On the second floor of the Cottonwood Parks and Recreation building, in between cracked drywall and paint-peeled walls, Special Events Coordinator Hezekiah Allen and Recreation Coordinator Jason Little meet around a foldout table to discuss future events planned by the department.

Allen's office is just behind them ­ on top of the old stage, cubed off by portable walls. He's lucky. He has a window.

Little's office is tucked away in the Civic Center adjacent to the parks and recreation building. His office recently endured a water leak problem. The carpet is tainted with circular stains.

This is how parks and rec -- the slogan on the front door says the department makes "the good life better" -- currently operates.

The office conditions and the building's deteriorating structure are just some of the reasons why the city is proposing a municipal aquatics and recreation facility.

"Currently, the City of Cottonwood does not have a recreation center," said Parks and Recreation Director Richard Faust. "The term used for the Cottonwood Recreation Center is best identified as the location at 791 N. Main St. -- built in 1938 as a church facility Š It has been said that there is no greater measure of our society than how we treat our children -- for our children will determine the success of our tomorrows. I was raised in a small rural town outside Des Moines, Iowa ­ population 1,800. We had a small recreation center, which housed a Ping-Pong table, a pool table, chess and other board games, plus a small outdoor swimming pool. My recreation experience was very limited, but what I experienced I remember with all my being."

Many in the community have recognized a need for a recreation and aquatics center. This need was specifically noted in 1996 and 1997, when, Faust said, more than 80 percent of the 800 Verde Valley residents surveyed in a Parks and Recreation Commission poll supported it.

"The commission has long envisioned a centrally-located structure that would house the indoor sports," said Parks and Recreation Commissioner Bill Bowden. "We have discussed in depth the aging outdoor pool that can be used only in warm weather. The city is experiencing a need to provide for more team and pickup basketball games and other court sports Š Speaking of [the current building at 791 N. Main St.], the department has had to discontinue the use of the auditorium and stage upstairs, as we could not meet the federal standards as to accessibility Š The list of unmet needs is quite extensive."

Commission Chairman Doug Hulse agrees that the current swimming pool "has reached the end of its usable life" and "will require major renovations at a cost in excess of half a million dollars."

Many have expressed, in council meetings and through other avenues, their desire to have better swimming facilities.

"There's always been a big interest in the community for indoor swimming," City Manager Brian Mickelsen said.

Commissioner Ann Shaw said the commission began talking several years ago about renovating the existing pool and expanding the swimming season. They found that this could not be done because the pool had not been designed to be a covered facility.

The main problem with the existing pool is its age.

The diving well no longer meets Occupational Safety and Health Administration specifications "and the locker room facilities are less than optimal," Shaw said.

Other noted problem areas for the recreation department and existing facilities include non-existing basketball courts for league play, lack of community meeting facilities and a makeshift weight room.

Currently, because there are no basketball courts, the parks and recreation department has to go through the school system to provide any type of league play. Administrative Coordinator Robin Babbitt said the games are constantly being cancelled due to scheduling conflicts.

The weight room is in the basement of the parks and recreation building.

"I have been serving as a commissioner for the past seven years and, in that time, we have shifted our focus from developing a list of relatively minor projects to the planning of a single large project, which would answer the expanding needs for recreational services," said Shaw.

That answer, Shaw and others believe, is the construction of a 60,000-square-foot recreation and aquatics center.

If approved by voters on Nov. 7, the center would include: an indoor pool for leisure or lap swim; an eight-lane outdoor lap pool; workout area; basketball gym; banquet hall and catering kitchen; proposed wellness center and therapy pool, which could include a partnership with the Verde Valley Medical Center; running track; new office space; community events hall; rock climbing wall; and other amenities related to recreation.

"A multigenerational recreation and aquatics center will provide a place where whole families can go to spend time together," said Hulse. "It will provide facilities for large events such as weddings, large parties, conventions, dances and meetings."

The idea of having a "state-of-the-art" community center, with all recreational activities packed into one place, is a dream shared by many in the community.

However, not all dreams are free. This one costs $17 million.