Upgrades for Soldotna’s sports complex progress

Soldotna is one step closer to having an improved sports complex.

Last week, the Soldotna City Council approved an ordinance appropriating $500,000 to conduct the design phase of the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex conference expansion and field house.

The ordinance passed 5-1 with council members Pete Sprague, Paul Whitney, Meggean Bos, Regina Daniels and Keith Baxter voting for the ordinance. Linda Murphy was the sole council member opposed to the ordinance.

According to a memo from Kyle Kornelis, Soldotna city engineer, to Mark Dixson, Soldotna city manager, the money will “enable the design efforts, including programming, conceptual, schematic design, design development, and construction documents.”

Dixson said that the current facility, which is decades old, has done a “yeoman’s job.” However, the growing city and the evolving recreational demands of its residents require facility upgrades.

In 2013, a draft concept plan was created for the sports complex that would have seen more upgraded amenities as well as a conference area expansion and field house. Had the entire project come to fruition, the costs were projected to be around $20 million. Dixson said such a costly expansion wouldn’t be prudent at this time due to the current financial climate. The revised project is estimated to cost $8 million.

At this point, the city is unsure of what the design phase will propose, however some basics are needed.

“Two things are apparent — the current event center that we have is insufficient to meet the needs of the community, and that there is a strong need for an indoor turf facility,” Dixson said.

Dixson said an improved facility would attract people to Soldotna, and increase the city’s tax revenue.

“Like it or not, the city of Soldotna is quickly becoming the center of activity for the central peninsula region,” he said.

Dixson said that the complex would probably not make a profit directly, but the city needs to invest in capital projects to meet high quality-of-life standards for its residents.

The ordinance received widespread support, as dozens of community members came to talk in favor of the expansion. Speakers mentioned the benefits of an improved facility, including more practice space for school sports, safer playing environments and indoor walking areas for seniors.

Among the supporters was Rick Roeske, director of the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District. He said that the city might save money by doing the project during the state’s current financial hardships, because contractors could be “hungrier” for work.

“I don’t think you can go wrong with (the project),” he said. “The city is at a certain place in time, and I think now is the time to do it.”

Members of Soldotna High School’s girl’s soccer team showed their support, as did the school’s principal, Todd Syverson.

“An indoor facility that is ice-free, mud-free, would give us that opportunity to play safer,” Syverson said. “Obviously, Soldotna High School is in support of this expansion.”

The facility also drew support from outside the city limits. Alan Fields, Kenai Central High School principal, spoke in favor of an improved facility.

“I would say that healthy communities have healthy kids, and this is a step in the right direction,” he said.

Murphy’s opposition stemmed from fiscal concerns. While she said that a new facility would be nice for peninsula students, it’s not the city’s place to pay for such a costly facility intended to be used by people borough-wide.

“I sympathize with the students who need a place to recreate,” she said. “But I see that as a borough responsibility.”

The subsequent steps of the process will be communicated to the public during council meetings.

Ian Foley is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.

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