Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Did Rec District err?

Only hindsight will tell whether the Blaine County Recreation District's decision to open a new taxpayer-funded FitWorks gym in the midst of the Great Recession was naughty or nice.

The well-equipped gym with its broad schedule of fitness classes is the newest part of the Community Campus in Hailey.

It was a surprise to the public even though a Hailey fitness center had been part of a development plan hatched in 2001-02 in the wake of voters' rejection of an $11.8 million bond issue for recreation facilities in 1999.

And no wonder. A lot has changed since 2002 when the area was booming

The private, nonprofit YMCA pool and recreation complex was developed on land leased from the city of Ketchum.

Private gyms popped up in Hailey as larger complexes failed to get beyond blueprint stage. The BCRD kept the old high school gym open for public programs.

The Great Recession hit in 2008 and has since precipitated lost homes and businesses, struggles for those that remain, drops in vacationers who fuel the economy and high unemployment.

Despite the bust, the BCRD, and its partners, the Blaine County School District and the College of Southern Idaho, clung to the 2002 plan and poured $340,000 into FitWorks. Gym users will pay fees comparable to private facility fees to cover unspecified ongoing operations costs.

BCRD officials say private fitness centers won't be hurt. That's hard to believe given that one of two large private gyms in Ketchum closed and others suffered membership losses when the Y came to town.

BCRD shouldn't have sprung FitWorks on a distracted and distressed public with the excuse that it had been planned since 2002. It should be better than that.

Will it all work out? We can only hope the BCRD's sunny optimism prevails.

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