A decade down and still running strong: Gypsum Recreation Center marks its 10th anniversary | VailDaily.com

A decade down and still running strong: Gypsum Recreation Center marks its 10th anniversary

GYPSUM — The Gypsum Recreation Center is wearing its age well.

The popular downvalley facility marks its 10th anniversary this week and since its 2006 opening, it has remained a very popular family venue. That has always been the point.

"This is a family facility. It is a one-stop shop. Mom and dad can take a fitness class while the kids are participating in a youth sports program and we fill up every square inch of this facility," said Scott Ruff, Gypsum Recreation Center manager.

That's a lot of inches. The center is a 57,000-square-foot facility that includes a pool, climbing wall, gymnastics center, indoor court area, fitness area, classrooms, meeting rooms and more. When the facility was first proposed, some locals thought Gypsum might be taking on a responsibility that was too large for such a small town. A decade later, suffice to say they were wrong.

“Gypsum doesn’t really have a downtown core, but the rec center has really become that place for the community. It’s the place for everyone from senior fitness to tumble tots and day care.”Jeff ShrollGypsum Town Manager

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Grassroots planning

"The Gypsum Recreation Center is probably one of the best examples around of local government in action and how government is supposed to work," said Gypsum Town Manager Jeff Shroll.

The project began with a committee. A small group of Gypsum residents gathered together to discuss what the town needed for recreation amenities. The discussion was then expanded to include anyone who wanted to weigh in during a series of public meetings.

The town was contemplating taking on about $6 million in debt to build a center, but after all the desired amenities were listed out, the project quickly swelled to a $13.5 million effort. But Gypsum residents demonstrated they were willing to finance that plan, approving a 1 percent sales tax ballot question by a nearly 4 to 1 margin. Notably, that was a pre-Costco time for Gypsum. The large retailer wouldn't open until the center was nearly complete.

However, the addition of Costco sales tax revenues later played a big role in the center's story. When they approved the sale tax, Gypsum residents also approved a 20-year term for the debt. When Costco came on line, the town paid off the recreation center in just eight years and Gypsum dropped collections of that 1 percent sales tax.

Secrets to success

The early payoff isn't the only success story at the Gypsum Recreation Center. In 2007 and 2008, the first two years after it opened, the center ran in the black. That's nearly unprecedented because most municipal recreation centers require sizable subsidies during their formative years.

"I don't think anyone here, or anyone in the state, believed they were going to run in the black that first year," said Shroll. "I have had people say 'Show me your books' when I tell them that."

Ruff pointed to the family formula to explain that early success. He said families flocked to the center for kids' programs and adult fitness.

"This was just everything the community wanted," he said.

Membership numbers did dwindle in lean years following 2008.

"Once the recession hit, our revenues dropped but our expenses stayed the same. At least we knew what the reason was, though. Membership dropped because a lot of people left Eagle County to chase jobs."

But 2016 has seen a rebound and Ruff said the center should be subsidy-free again at year's end.

Regardless of the membership numbers, the recreation center's pricing has remained unchanged. Daily admission for kids under age 3 is free. The cost for youth ages 3 to 17 is $5 and the adult daily admission cost is $7. Daily admission for a family of four is $20. Annual memberships are $250 for youth, $450 for adults and $750 for families.

"We hope to do that (keep fees at their opening day level) for as long as we can," said Ruff. "Getting back into the black is simply matter of volume for us, not fee increases."

Sprucing up

"A lot of the people who come to the Gypsum Recreation Center for the first time can't believe it is 10 years old," said Ruff.

Staff members at the center are sticklers for cleanliness and they are also ambitious programmers. Drop by the center between 5 and 7 p.m. on a weekday and chances are you will have a tough time finding a place to park.

"Gypsum doesn't really have a downtown core, but the rec center has really become that place for the community," said Shroll. "It's the place for everyone from senior fitness to tumble tots and day care."

Today's challenge for the facility is how to keep it fresh.

"Ten years later, there are some things that are getting old and tired. We need to replace the carpet, for example," said Shroll. "Ten years later, how do we re-invest ourselves in it?"

The center doesn't feature recreation spaces that have lost popularity — think racquetball courts. But after 10 years, there is a need for additional gymnasium space and fitness classrooms. Ruff noted that 2017 will likely see planning begin for a center expansion to meet those needs.

In the meantime, the center continues to solidify its place as the heart of Gypsum. On Thursday evening, 10-year-old Elias Pena was practicing his ball-handling skills as he waited for his junior basketball practice to begin. He said he comes to the center just about every day to practice.

Like Elias, 18-year-old Trever LaFramboise is a daily visitor. LaFramboise works as a lifeguard at the center pool and regularly works out at the fitness room.

"Everything here is great. I like how clean and organized it is. Nothing is ever out of place," he said.

Gypsum Recreation Center

By the numbers…

6,974 … Number of members to date in 2016

4 percent … Growth of GRC programs in 2016

13,813 … Number of adult program participants in 2015

8,896 … Number of youth program participants in 2015

155,000 … Total GRC visits in 2015

$13.5 million … Cost to build center in 2006

20 years … The debt term voters approved to build the center

8 years … How long it took to actually pay off the debt