The city of Durango will spend about $2.1 million this year to bring more than 400 gymnastics students a new facility.
“We have known for a number of years that the Mason Center was inadequate for gymnastics,” said Cathy Metz, director of parks and recreation.
But the city didn’t have the money to improve recreational facilities until Durango city voters reauthorized a half-cent sales tax in April.
The tax initially was passed in 1999 to pay for the Durango Community Recreation Center and parts of the Animas River Trail.
With the recent vote, tax revenue can be used for maintenance, recreation facilities, trails, parks, city trees and improvements to bicycle and pedestrian pathways and bridges.
City councilors asked Metz to look for an alternative to the Mason Center in October, during budget discussions. The councilors approved the purchase of a building in December, and the city will close on the deal in March.
“After the half-cent reauthorization passed, it was important to show the public that City Council was paying attention,” Councilor Sweetie Marbury said.
The Mason Center is too small for gymnasts to practice on all the events at once or to host a meet.
“I had heard from parents that it was a problem, it wasn’t designed to do what had been done with it,” said Councilor Keith Brant, who has a daughter in gymnastics.
The Mason Center, on East Third Avenue and 12th Street, is in such poor condition it needs to be demolished, Metz said. “It’s cost-prohibitive if you want to remodel.”
The former elementary school was built in the 1950s, and has also housed the Adult Education Center, Durango Latino Education Coalition and city storage, among other things.
The future of the building and the vision for using the land for a park will be discussed publicly, and will likely include the Historic Preservation Board, City Manager Ron LeBlanc said.
“It may result in knocking the building down and doing some improvements to the park,” he said.
Although the center is in a historic district, it is not a historic building, said Karen Anesi, a board member of the Boulevard Neighborhood Association, which represents East Third Avenue-area residents.
The building’s roof and heating and cooling system have problems. Workers are also likely to find asbestos wrapped around pipes and in the mastic adhesive used for the floor tile, LeBlanc said.
“It wouldn’t surprise me to see structural issues,” he said.
It is unknown how much it might cost to demolish the Mason Center, he said.
The building the city plans to purchase for $1.1 million in Bodo Industrial Park, south of downtown Durango, offers about 11,900 square feet of space compared with Mason Center’s 3,500 square feet. It has a good layout for gymnastics, but it needs about $1 million in upgrades.
“A large open space with high ceilings is the biggest thing that allows us to run the gymnastics program there. It’s wide enough for a full spring floor and also long enough for a vault runway.
The ceilings are high enough for rings and bars as well, all of these things were difficult to find in a building,” said Stephanie Malhmood, who supervises the gymnastics program. Having adequate space will allow Malhmood to eliminate waiting lists for classes for her self-sustaining program, and expand offerings at the gym to include such things as tumbling and trampoline classes.
During the last session, there were about 20 people on the waiting list, but she has had up to 90 kids on the list at times, she said.
The building was previously used for athletes to practice sports such as soccer in the winter, so it hasn’t been finished to the level of many other city recreation buildings, and it does not meet the standards for disability accessibility, Metz said.
The city will rip out the fake grass covering the floor, put in drywall, finish the ceilings, renovate the bathrooms and the stairs before it opens. The parking lot also must be expanded, resurfaced and drainage added, LeBlanc said.
“We want to make sure that we have a facility that caters to all of the uses,” Metz said.
The city would like to start the renovation work in April and finish it before the end of the year, she said. The project has not been advertised to contractors yet, LeBlanc said.