Council gives final greenlight for construction of James E. Russell Sports Center

By Zach Hagadone
Reader Staff

After more than a year of planning — and rising community debate in recent months — Sandpoint City Council members voted Sept. 27 to give their final approval to the contracts that will open the way for the start of construction on the James E. Russell Sports Center at Travers Park.

The unanimous vote came during a special public hearing that drew a near-capacity crowd, with the majority of them expressing support for the project, though some from the tennis community with caveats related to sharing the facility equitably with pickleball players, and others flat out opposed to the facility based primarily on its location and the required removal of more than a dozen mature trees and the replacement of the playground. 

Ultimately, though, the public comment and views from the council were in favor.

“This is going to be a gem for our community,” said Councilor Andy Groat, later adding in apparent reference to some of the pushback, “Sandpoint is an interesting community; it takes a bit for us to all understand and believe, and we’re here to believe.”

Bob Costanza, who splits his time between Hope and Arizona and said he’s built and owned two tennis clubs — as well as competed successfully nationally in the USA Pickleball Association — said the James E. Russell Sports Complex is a “beautiful facility for the community” supporting “one of the best lifetime sports.”

However, others like Sandpoint resident Ann Giantvalley, spoke of “deep concern for the plan” based on its location and scope of changes at Travers Park, questioning whether it could accurately be described as a “renovation,” which would imply the repair, renewal or restoration of the already well-used park.

“I don’t really feel like this is properly a renovation,” she said, going on to suggest the project would “grossly modify what has been working well.” 

A rendering of the James E. Russell Sports Center, which was approved at the Sept. 27 Sandpoint City Council meeting. Courtesy image.

The decision Sept. 27 kicks off the first phase of construction, including survey work, demolition, installation of the foundation and utilities. Phase 1 also requires the removal of the existing playground and reconstruction, relocation of the picnic shelter and the structure for the sports facility.

Paid for by a private donation of $7.5 million from the Russell family, the project will be undertaken by Minnesota-based Legacy Building Solutions, with construction management and general contractor services provided by Ginno Construction Company, Coeur d’Alene. 

Following the change order approved Sept. 27, Legacy’s fee for building fabrication and installation comes to almost $2.74 million, anchor bolts for the structure will cost $22,119, the site improvement permit will run to more than $1.85 million, and Ginno Construction’s Phase 1 fee will be $235,056, bringing the new contract amount to more than $4.23 million. 

According to city documents, a guaranteed maximum price for construction services will be set after the design development phase is concluded, which will require an amended agreement. The final Phase 1 project schedule hasn’t been established yet, but the timeline under the bid is 240 days to completion. Meanwhile, work on the site is expected to begin in October, though the precise date won’t be determined until the contract is signed and a notice to proceed has been issued.

Sandpoint Park Planning and Development Manager Maeve Nevins-Lavtar said groundbreaking had been planned for June, but a “very hostile construction market” got in the way — specifically related to the lack of available electrical and HVAC items and a shortage of subcontracts, especially locally.

“This is a very large project with lots of moving parts,” she said.

The structure will be of “tension fabric” design, constructed with a solid steel frame of welded columns and tapered rafters. Polyester fabric panels coated with PVC will be attached to the exterior framing and anchored tight to cover the roof and walls, with more anchored fabric panels attached to the interior. Insulation will be provided between the two layers of panels, with ventilation from the eaves to the ridge of the roof.

According to the city’s bid package, the structure’s fabric cladding has a warranty period of 25 years from the date of substantial completion, with the manufacturer agreeing to repair or replace the components of the building that leak “or otherwise fail to remain weathertight” within 20 years from substantial completion.

According to the resolution approved Sept. 27, the James E. Russell Sports Center aligns with the Parks and Recreation Master Plan, which was adopted in September 2020 and identified the desire for an indoor tennis facility at Travers Park. The city received the Russell family donation in March 2022, which was intended to fund the design and construction of a court sports facility and “gateway plaza” into the Travers-Centennial Great Northern Sports Complex, as well as the donation of two bronze sculptures to be installed at the entrance to Travers Park.

As planning proceeded in the following months, the sports center concept grew from an indoor tennis facility into a multi-use complex designed with both tennis and pickleball at the forefront, as well as an expanded and updated playground, bicycle skills course and all-wheeled skatepark expansion.

While some have applauded the sports center and its associated park renovations as a historic opportunity for recreational improvements, others have been passionate in their opposition to the project as out of place for Travers Park and unnecessarily requiring the replacement of the heavily used playground area and the removal of more than a dozen mature trees.

According to the Nevins-Lavtar, 20 trees would be removed, which the bid packet indicates would cost more than $22,000. When combined with stump grinding and pruning and protection of existing trees and roots, the total tree-related services contract is $42,530. However, Nevins-Lavtar added, 60 trees would be replanted, sourced from a nursery in Bonners Ferry.

Longtime local resident Rebecca Holland has been among the most vocal and consistent opponents of the project, with special emphasis on the tree removal and disassembly, replacement and relocation of the playground. Holland has advocated for moving the sports center somewhere else to avoid those impacts on Travers Park. 

“The whole thing has been about location,” she said, adding later, “Location, location, location. The building is beautiful, but I can’t help but imagine James Russell … would approve of killing these 20 big, gorgeous park trees.”

Holland said that encouraging more access to tennis and pickleball facilities is “all good, but this plan sucks. And it’s not good that it’s just moving along.”

Jim Russell — who along with his mother, Ginny Russell, donated the $7.5 million to the city in honor of his late-father — thanked City Hall and residents for the dialogue: “The whole intention of this was to bring the community together,” he said, though noted that while some aren’t in favor, “I think that’s valuable.

“If I’m going to have a say, I’m going to say I’m a big advocate of both the location and of the design,” he said. 

With the final contracts approved, city officials said to stay tuned for an announcement related to groundbreaking soon. Nevins-Lavtar said a firm schedule would be established in the following two to three weeks after a preconstruction meeting this week. 

After that, she said, the work will “move pretty swiftly.”

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