It's not often that a town of just 5,000 people gets a new, state-of-the-art recreation center, but through unique partnerships with the Western Eagle County Metropolitan Recreation District (WECMRD), local tradesmen and artists, and other community stakeholders, the town of Gypsum, Colo., got just that.
The $12.2 million, 57,000-square-foot Gypsum Recreation Center opened its doors to the public in December 2006. It sits on a campus that centers around the town hall and also includes the public library, a sports complex and the new Lundgren Barn amphitheater.
"The size of the facility with that number of residents was a surprise—just that they could afford it," said Craig Bouck, a principal with Barker Rinker Seacat Architecture and the lead designer on the project.
The town was able to afford the center by partnering with WECMRD and by passing a sales tax increase. The partnership has paid off, and the new recreation center is available for the entire district—not just the 5,000 citizens of Gypsum, but about 10,000 people in Eagle County, Bouck said.
"It was the rec district's goal to have 2,500 members by the end of 2007," said Jeff Schroll, Gypsum town manager. "They are currently at 2,455, and it's only been open for three months. People are absolutely loving it."
The town of Gypsum does not have its own recreation department, but WECMRD serves the valley where Gypsum is located, a little less than 40 miles west of Vail. Gypsum approached the recreation district with its proposal that the town would build and own the center, and the district would run it. The district contributed a portion of the money to build the center.
"We decided not to try to reinvent this wheel," Schroll said. "They expressed an interest in letting them run it if we funded it, and they had passed a $9 million capital improvement fund and were willing to split that up between the three largest parts of the district. So they had $3 million to put in the kitty."
With additional money contributed by the Eagle County government and a state grant, Gypsum was left responsible for a little more than $8 million of the facility's cost.
"We passed a 1-cent sales tax initiative—overwhelmingly—and that's what's being used to pay back our bonds for the money we borrowed," Schroll said. "It's worked out really well."
Now that the center is complete, WECMRD has taken responsibility for running the facility, and shares the operational costs with the town—a departure from the typical scenario in which the town would assume all of the responsibility for operating the recreation center. Schroll said that the goal now is to reduce operating costs, so that first WECMRD and then the town itself can save some money.
Building the Gypsum Recreation Center presented several unique challenges, not the least of which is the "outrageous" costs for mountain construction, Schroll said.
Bouck added that the town's leaders had high expectations after touring recreation centers throughout the area. In addition, he said, the town did not want to lose its existing open space.
"The site is pretty small, and it was going to be part of the campus that the town was building over the years," Bouck said. "Most importantly, they had a big open green, and that's where they have the Gypsum Daze, a country music festival where the whole town gets together—a community-building event. So when we proposed that we were going to put this big building on their green, they were concerned to lose the open space."
Bouck and his team solved the problem by designing the building to be recessed into the hillside, preserving the green space. As part of the project, an old barn was also moved and became a renovated amphitheater.