By Zach Hagadone
Members of the Sandpoint City Council and the public took in a presentation May 17 detailing the Phase 1 final design for the James E. Russell Sports Center and Travers Park renovations — an overall project that has been in the works for more than a year since the Russell family gifted $7.5 million to the city for creation of a multi-court sports facility.
City Administrator Jennifer Stapleton announced that a groundbreaking for the sports center — which will house tennis and pickleball courts — is expected to take place on June 30, moving into construction this summer with full completion by spring 2024.
Noting that the city has “pushed very hard” with its various architectural design and planning contractors to move the project forward, Stapleton added that state tennis finals are slated to occur in Sandpoint next year.
“We want our kids to be able to play there,” she said. “The building needs to be complete, with occupancy in the building, so the tournament can happen [there].”
What’s more, Stapleton said the Russell family gift has so far accrued about $150,000 in interest earnings, which the city plans to use to establish the James E. Russell Sports Center Endowment Fund to help support maintenance and operations, with a permanent fund that would accept community memoriams and donations.
“It could be a way that we have a facility that pays for itself and is open to the public for the future,” she said, adding that establishment of the fund will require council approval, with the proposal expected to go before councilors in June.
Meanwhile, Stapleton also announced that Sandpoint received notice two weeks ago that it will receive a grant of approximately $500,000 from Idaho Parks and Recreation to fund about half of a $1.1 million playground relocation, reconstruction and expansion project at Travers Park, which would result in a play facility and splash pad that goes beyond Americans with Disabilities Act requirements to be classified as fully inclusive for users of all abilities.
“We know we’re getting this grant,” Stapleton said, later noting that there is a plan to reopen the playground at the new site, reusing as many components of the existing playground as possible. “We are not closing the playground for a year.”
Sandpoint Parks Planning and Development Manager Maeve Nevins-Lavtar presented alongside Troy Bishop, director of design and partner with ALSC Architects, and landscape architect Mike Terrell, focusing on the final designs of the sports center, playground and skatepark — the latter two projects anticipated to get under way in spring 2024, and still in their early conceptual design phases.
Bishop presented a number of architectural renderings showcasing the almost 40,000-square-foot James E. Russell Sports Center, describing it as a “grand entrance” to Travers Park.
He emphasized that the building will be oriented in such a way as to present as narrow a facade as possible fronting Pine Street, in order to have “the least visual impact.”
“I know a lot of people are nervous about this building dominating this park. We do not want to do that, but we are interested in this being a beacon for people to come to the park,” he said. “People probably want to look at the mountains more than our building.”
Featuring natural landscaping for stormwater treatment at the front of the building, a front wall with space for honoring donors and benches made from wood reclaimed from trees that will need to be removed at Travers Park for the project, public testimony was unanimous in admiring the architectural vision. However, the scale of the structure and its location remained a sticking point for some — particularly for members of the Travers family.
“I just want to say I think these ideas are fantastic. It looks like it’s going to be a beautiful building,” said Theresa Stevens, whose father, Frank Travers, was instrumental in creating the park.
“I just really would encourage you to find another piece of property and let us enjoy Travers the way it is, because it’s lovely,” she later added.
Stevens’ sister, Monica Travers-Gunter, wondered if parking would be sufficient and, while applauding the inclusive playground concept, said, “It just needs to not be beside this building.”
“The playground is super, the building is super, but the building is just too big for this beautiful Travers Park — it’s going to completely take away the aesthetics of Travers Park,” she said.
Finally, John Travers agreed that “every park in the city should have this playground,” but, “I’m with my sisters.”
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