Yes, the Steiner Aquatic Center is a nice facility. But it was supposed to be a lot nicer.
The master plan for the center envisioned a full-service recreation center including pools, ice skating, fitness center, courts and fields for soccer and baseball.So far, all it has is, uh, the pools - an outdoor and an indoor. The outdoor pool isn't used in the winter because it doesn't have a cover.
The problem with building all the rest of the planned facilities is, of course, money. The aquatic center cost $2.1 million when it was built in 1990, and adding all the rest of that stuff would cost a lot more than that.
"(Full expansion) has a price tag that we probably can't afford," said Roger Black, city director of management services.
The idea of an ice sheet at Steiner, especially, has been hanging around for years, and Black says residents are getting anxious about it. That might be affordable, but along with some other capital projects being contemplated by the city, "We need to make a decision to fish or cut bait on this," he said.
As currently proposed - with a single, covered ice sheet with locker rooms, spectator seating, a joint lobby with the swimming pool, expanded locker rooms and space for community and general fitness use - the ice sheet would cost $12.5 million.
The Salt Lake Organizing Committee for the 2002 Winter Games has pledged to kick in $3 million if it can use the ice sheet as a practice facility for athletes, and an estimated $2 million could be raised through community donations. Even so, "It's a pretty steep price tag," Black said.
Chicago-based HatTrick Development, a private constructor/
operator of ice facilities, has proposed a no-frills alternative plan. It includes two ice sheets, but the expansion would not be integrated with the swimming pool building, would not include community or general fitness space, and would not include expanded swimming locker rooms.
HatTrick's option would cost $8 million, with the company becoming part owner and having a long-term contract to manage the ice sheets.
The city currently subsidizes Steiner to the tune of $170,000 per year, which city officials say is worth it. It's one of the most heavily used swimming facilities in Salt Lake Valley, with about 225,000 users passing through its doors every year - 300 to 500 per day in the winter, and 1,000 to 1,200 per day in the summer, according to Steiner supervisor Brent Sheets.
Black is talking up various capital projects including Steiner, a firefighter training facility ($10.5 million), a new police precinct building ($6.5 million), Liberty Park improvements ($16.8 million), a fleet maintenance facility ($20.8 million), a new field sports complex ($6.8 million), and new buildings on the block just east of the Salt Lake City-County Building ($37.4 million). Plans for all of them have been around for a long time, and he wants them to be included in next year's budget or not at all.
The City Council is now looking at whether to finance the projects, though members realize there isn't a lot of money floating around.
"All the projects here are very worthy projects," said Council Chairman Bryce Jolley. "But . . . "