Council will continue with Memorial Field project

By Ben Olson
Reader Staff

The Sandpoint City Council held a virtual meeting Wednesday, April 1 at 5:30 with a sparse agenda.

Sandpoint Mayor Shelby Rognstad recognized that he had received numerous letters on the feasibility of continuing with the turf project at War Memorial Field in light of the coronavirus pandemic. Rognstad said he had received letters in support of continuing the project, as well as some wanting the construction to halt in fear that it would not meet the July 31 completion date.

Residents met with consultants and city staff to learn more about potential artificial turf options for Memorial Field. Photo by Zach Hagadone.

Rognstad recognized a central theme in many letters that there was a misunderstanding of how the 1% sales tax applied.

“Those 1% funds can only be used for infrastructure at Memorial Field and other parks projects,” Rognstad said. “The priority is first for Memorial Field. They can’t be used for an emergency.”

Councilwoman Deb Reuhl recognized several concerns voiced to her from constituents about the project moving forward in a situation where news changes daily.

“I do have concerns relative to the field, labor and where our construction employees are coming from,” Reuhl said. “What if the governor shuts down the border statewide? Where does that leave us?”

The Sandpoint City Council accepted the bid from J7 Contracting, Inc. based in Bonners Ferry to install the natural rubber, cork and sand mix infill and turf system at Memorial Field on March 18, with a projected start date of April 1. The field replacement is scheduled to be mostly completed by July 21, with a final completion date of July 31. The Festival at Sandpoint, which leases the field from the city, begins August 6.

The Festival Board of Directors issued a statement last week expressing concerns that construction could be held up while in the midst of the health crisis.

“Understanding the city is currently facing unprecedented circumstances, we hope they will reconsider the decision to prioritize the non-essential artificial field project in the face of so many unknowns,” the board wrote in the statement.

“The Festival has been working closely with the city since September of last year to accommodate the Festival on a new surface,” the Festival board wrote. “Though we are prepared and have plans in place to do so, if unforeseen circumstances arise from the COVID-19 outbreak such as the ability to secure labor, materials, or a shelter-in-place mandate for all non-essential businesses, an uncompleted project would have huge ramifications on the Festival.

Rognstad said it was in the best interest for the taxpayers that the city continues on with the plan they’ve committed to. 

“If it were to be delayed another year, our ability to afford that project would possibly be at risk,” he said.

He noted that he spoke with Gov. Brad Little’s office earlier in the day and confirmed that the contractors are apprised of the most current protocols around social distancing.

“In a time where there’s tremendous economic uncertainty, a lot of people are losing their jobs,” Rognstad said. “I think it’s quite valuable that we’re able to continue employment and maintain financial security for these workers. There is that benefit we receive by keeping people employed.”

Rognstad concluded that all the vendors and suppliers still had “high confidence” that they would be able to follow through with the delivery of those resources they need for the project.

City administrator Jennifer Stapleton gave a brief update on COVID-19 in Bonner County, noting that City Hall continues to function in a virtual capacity and that the issuance of building permits and virtual inspections hasn’t slowed.

“We are on pace for issuance of building permits at least for what we had last year, which was a record year for the city,” Stapleton said.

Stapleton announced that soon Sandpoint residents will be able to open utility accounts electronically instead of having to come directly to City Hall. The feature will launch by the end of the week, Stapleton said. 

In response to a survey the city has offered to local businesses, Stapleton said 44 businesses reported they had closed completely in Sandpoint as a result of the CDC guidelines and Gov. Little’s stay-at-home order issued last week.

“We’re sharing the survey results with the police,” Stapleton said. “Chief Coon announced his staff have gone to 12 hour shifts, and we’re doubling up our staffing on night patrols and security checks in response to the number of closures, checking that doors are locked, making sure people aren’t present where they shouldn’t be present.”

The council then voted to approve the Timber Creek Subdivision Preliminary Plat as recommended by the Sandpoint Planning and Zoning Commission. The Timber Creek Subdivision is an approximately 4.37-acre parcel located at 2230 Ontario St. just west of the Ontario St. and Northview Dr. intersection. The application to subdivide the parcel into 22 lots with a minimum lot size of 5,000 sq. ft. was unanimously approved by the council and the meeting was adjourned.

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