Public forum planned for January

By Emily Wolfe Explore Big Sky Managing Editor

BIG SKY – In keeping with the infrastructure-related growth that’s been a recent theme in Big Sky, the community may have a full-sized swimming pool and a medley of other recreational facilities on its horizon.

The Big Sky Community Corp. this year hired a consultant to complete a recreation facility feasibility study after hearing from a variety of user groups and community members. Funded by a $50,000 resort tax grant, the local nonprofit parks and rec group hired USAquatics and Isaac Sports Group, which work together providing consulting, design, business plans and operating financial forecasts for recreation facilities.

Representatives from the consulting firms visited in July 2013 to meet with BSCC and stakeholders in the community, among them the Big Sky Skating and Hockey Association, Visit Big Sky/ Big Sky Chamber of Commerce, the Big Sky School District, the Big Sky Resort Tax Area District, the Arts Council of Big Sky, Montana State University Aquatics, the Big Sky Professional Bull Riding event, the Hebgen Lake Yacht Club, and other interested community members.

They also gathered information on existing facilities and programs and reviewed site options.

In its initial proposal, the consulting group has suggested building two facilities: a combined aquatic and recreation center, and a combined ice and rodeo arena.

This preliminary proposal includes a green “flex” field for multiple sports; an indoor running track; exercise rooms; a lap pool; diving boards; an aquatic climbing wall; a therapy pool; a splash pool with water slides; a stockyard; and a rodeo arena that can also be used as an ice skating/hockey rink and an event facility.

On Dec. 16, a group of 12 led by BSCC met to discuss this proposal and hold a phone conference with the consultants.

The committee discussed big picture details like site placement and acquisition, costs and fundraising, and partnering with the local water and sewer district and resort tax board. It also had specific questions about the proposed facilities pertaining to square footage and design.

Although BSCC is facilitating this part of the process, the organization won’t necessarily be in charge of building or operating the facilities, said BSCC Executive Director Jessie Wiese.

“Who is doing all of these things?” Wiese asked. “Is it BSCC? Another private entity? … The roles of what we play in the actual facility haven’t been determined yet… the nitty gritty of how this is going to look.”

Knowing these and other details, said ISC consultant Stu Isaac in the conference call, will help ISG and USAquatics fine-tune the financials, as well as some of the design elements.

“We want to really understand your programming philosophy and how you’re looking to manage the facility. One of the keys is, clearly you have a hockey group that exists, but you don’t have much of a swim team – but that will form. Learn-to-swim, aquatic fitness, ice skating and figure skating classes, fitness classes – are those things you’re looking to manage and be a programming entity, or are you looking for partners to outsource that and rent the space?”

The group decided these questions would be determined in future meetings, some by subcommittees, and others after a public forum planned for the week of Jan. 20.

“The goal is to get people involved who are already doing these programs,” said committee member Michelle Horning, a local realtor who was involved in an earlier rec center group and has a degree in Recreation Management. “We want to enhance what they’re doing and try to involve them in it.”

One thing the committee members agreed upon from the proposal was that the two facilities should be separated, with rodeo arena livestock set away from areas of commerce.

“Projecting what these sites could bring to you five, 10 years down the line – the arena and ice have tremendous growth capabilities,” Isaac said. “If you put them all together now, they might squeeze [into one space], but you’re going to lose a lot of versatility when folks are trying to do even bigger rodeo events and concerts.”

The group tossed around ideas for construction funding ranging from corporate sponsorship to government grants to a mill levy. Committee member Andy Dreisbach, owner of Cornerstone Management Services and also part of the previous rec center group, said ongoing funding is likely to be a larger concern.

“My main concern is not just to build a facility, but to build a facility and have it be sustainable,” Dreisbach said.

The consultants, Stu Isaac and Tom Schaffer, will visit Big Sky again in January 2014 to see the community during the winter season and to iron out additional details, according to BSCC Project Coordinator Emily O’Connor. During that visit, the consultants will focus on the business model and host the public forum (date TBA).

This will be a time to clarify design and operational elements, Wiese said – “who’s using it, who do we really need to cater to?” She also posed a question as to whether it would be a nonprofit, an entity of the local park district, or a private business enterprise.

Questions about the proposal? Contact Big Sky Community Corp. Executive Director Jessie Wiese at jessie@bsccmt.org.