While conversations about the city and school district’s respective athletic building plans are going well, the chances of sharing space may be complicated by scheduling. 

The two entities are investigating if a proposed school wellness center and public recreation center could work in conjunction with each other. And while the conversation is in its preliminary stages, the city has identified some schedule conflicts that could make sharing space a challenge. 

“It was a really good meeting and I think we got a long way toward answering the question as to whether or not the school district’s planned wellness facility could also accommodate city needs,” Dorn said. “My takeaway from the meeting was that it would be very challenging to do that.”

According to Dorn, city and school staff got into “great detail” about their respective program needs for an athletic complex. But the city/school’s weekday program times, and the school’s night/weekend athletic competitions, could make public access to the school’s athletic center challenging. 

“When we started kind of looking at the needs we had as well, it was becoming obvious, I think, to all of us as a group, there were a lot of [scheduling] conflicts,” Deputy City Manager Tom Hubbard said. “They would need space when we needed space.”

He added that school officials said the space would be available to the public from 6-8:20 a.m. then again after 6:30 p.m., provided there were no evening athletic competitions. On weekends, the space would have limited availability depending on school athletic programming. 

School Board member Bridget Burkhardt told The Other Paper those are the potential times they discussed. It’s likely there would be morning and evening public availability in the space, she said, adding that Sundays also often have little high school and middle school programming. The summer could be another opportunity to share the space with the public. During the academic year the school would need the space during daytime hours for school programs, Burkhardt said, adding she’s aware the city has some daytime recreation programming.

 “It’s too early days to say ‘Here are exactly the times we’d be able to make it [a wellness center] available,’ we’re still working those things out,” she said. “It was really our first time sitting down with them. There are opportunities though.”

The district’s current vision for a wellness center would provide at least the same amount of city and school collaboration that exists now, Burkhardt said. Currently, the recreation department uses school athletic space for Mini Metro and other programming. 

Preliminary designs for the school’s wellness center include a 200-meter indoor competition track with three basketball courts in the center. Along the building’s perimeter would be locker rooms, a weight room and movement studio. Conceptual cost estimates place the center at $17.2 million, Burkhart said. But, she added, the school will be hosting public forums and listening to input on space needs and design. Firmer cost estimates and designs will follow, likely prepared by mid-December, she said. 

Vermont has few such competition indoor track facilities, city and school officials say. UVM’s indoor track, where South Burlington athletes have competed in the past, will likely not be available to the high school next year, Burkhart said. Other Vermont-based indoor competition tracks include Middlebury’s track – which the university does not rent for high school use – and Norwich University’s track, which is too costly, Burkhardt said. She added the next closest facilities are in New Hampshire.

But a competition track is different than the walking, jogging, stroller-friendly track with  separate activity space that the city is envisioning, Hubbard said. It’s a conversation the city looks forward to having with the school going forward, he added.

The city and school also have yet to discuss other elements of a joint facility, such as school security, Dorn said. But Burkhardt said the wellness center would likely be designed so that it could be closed off from school buildings to facilitate public use. 

According to Burkhardt, the district is also open to investigating city needs for features in the athletic space.

“I think we were very pleased that they invited us into that [discussion] process,” she said. 

On the city’s end, Dorn said, that while the school has significant programmatic needs for the space, the city is “still having this conversation with them.”

“We all left [the meeting] with good information, but I think with pretty solid information that there were great needs on both sides,” Hubbard said, “and to put them together created a lot of conflict with the same times of day that we would need facility spaces.”

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