Pierce County authorizes $6.1M for Sprinker Recreation Center repairs

A proposal authorizing short-term repairs to keep Pierce County's popular Sprinker Recreation Center open -- while committing to a long-term...

A proposal authorizing short-term repairs to keep Pierce County’s popular Sprinker Recreation Center open — while committing to a long-term funding solution for all county parks — cleared the County Council unanimously this afternoon.

The first part of the council’s resolution authorizes $6.1 million for a new roof and structural and mechanical fixes to Sprinker, which the county’s building official last month indicated would have to close this fall unless a plan is set to make critical repairs. The second part underscores the council’s commitment to funding the county’s other parks, including a possible metropolitan park district that would give unincorporated Pierce County voters final say over how they want their parks used and improved.

“This has been a collaborative effort to solve some problems that have been percolating for a long time,” Council Chair Roger Bush (District 3) said. “One of the challenges that gets overlooked is how to maintain these wonderful facilities once you build them — not just Sprinker, but all of our county’s parks. Today we embark on a path that will ensure safe, well maintained and expanded parks for the next generation of Pierce County residents.”

County Executive Pat McCarthy submitted a plan to make the most critical repairs needed to keep the 34-year-old facility open, such as a new ice arena roof, seismic upgrades, a new ice rink including mechanical improvements, and replacing building systems like heating and air conditioning. They will be funded with $630,000 already committed to Sprinker’s design work and $5.4 million from existing funds including the county’s real-estate excise tax (REET) dedicated to parks.

“The Sprinker building has served thousands of people for more than three decades, but it needs structural improvements to keep it open,” McCarthy said. “After evaluating a number of possible options, we found a cost-effective, common sense path forward that uses existing financial resources to deal with the building’s most critical needs. Once we get that done, I believe we can make steady progress over the years to address the aesthetics and comfort issues.”

Parks staff are working to relocate Sprinker’s ice skating and other programs while construction is being done at Sprinker, McCarthy noted.

“Our Parks and Recreation staff should be commended for all they have done over the years to cope with the building’s deficiencies,” the Executive said. “And Sprinker’s users deserve lots of credit, too. They have worked closely with our parks staff, and they’ve done a good job of communicating with elected officials and managers about their willingness to help find solutions.”

Since much of the available revenue for parks will be committed in the coming years to Sprinker repairs, Bush said there needs to be a more reliable long-term funding source for parks facilities that isn’t affected by recessions and economic downturns. The second half of the resolution outlines a framework for a metropolitan park district, which would manage and fund park facilities in unincorporated Pierce County.

Voters would be asked to create such a district, and thereafter they would have final say over proposals to continue and expand park facilities and recreation programs. The concept will go to the county’s Parks and Recreation Citizens’ Advisory Board for comment before any proposal goes to the ballot, perhaps by February 2011.

The proposal the citizens’ advisory board will receive outlines up to $47.5 million in potential development that could be done at Bonney Lake, Orangegate, Meridian Habitat, Cross, Ashford County and Frontier parks as well as the Foothills Trail and additional improvements to Sprinker.

“At a time when other areas are closing parks or reducing their maintenance,” Bush said, “we would be making tangible, long-term investments that no current or future recession can take away.”

Today’s meeting will be replayed throughout the week on Pierce County TV, channel 22 or 78 (check schedule), and archived on the Web at http://www.piercecountytv.org .

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