Aspen budget cuts bring out gymnasts |

Aspen budget cuts bring out gymnasts

John Colson
Aspen Correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
Paul Conrad/The Aspen TimesSilver City Gymnastics member Julia Boronski, 10, of Aspen, right, listens as a parent reads a statement to the Aspen City Council on Monday

ASPEN, Colorado ” Faced with more than a dozen young gymnasts in cute black outfits, and a standing-room-only group of parents and other advocates, the Aspen City Council on Monday agreed to look for ways to pay for gymnastic equipment that had been cut from the city’s budget.

The equipment, two sunken foam pits and two floor-level trampolines, would replace equipment that has been in use for nearly 15 years at the Red Brick Center for the Arts gymnasium.

The existing equipment poses a safety hazard to the roughly 300 local children who participate in the Silver City Gymnastics program, proponents say, and until recently the council had planned to spend approximately $381,000 on the project.

But in light of the current national economic downturn, and city estimates that tourism and sales tax revenues may drop off as a result, City Manager Steve Barwick and his staff had cut the equipment from the budget.

The pits were among a long list of projects, valued at roughly $1.3 million, that the city had been planning to undertake before the budget crisis hit. The projects, including pedestrian trails, repairs to streets and city facilities, security upgrades for the city’s computers and data processing systems and a traffic study, all have been put on hold.

But the parents and coaches who pleaded their case with the council Monday had other concerns than balancing a severely constrained budget.

John Bakken, director of gymnastics at the Red Brick, said gymnastic facilities in other cities already have switched to foam-filled pits and floor-level trampolines.

“We are the only program I know of that still is training without the proper safety equipment,” he said.

And numerous attendees at the meeting, from parents to gymnasts to snowboarders and freestyle skiers, testified to the importance of pits in terms of safe training techniques for gymnasts as well as snowboarders working on their half-pipe and other big-air skills.

One snowboarding coach told the council that the training his athletes get in the Red Brick is invaluable, but that he worries every summer about the safety of the existing equipment.

Kyla Sobieralski, 19, is a native of Aspen who trained here as a gymnast and is training for a snowboarding career. She said that “every single gym we went to … had a lot better equipment.” And the real point, she said, is that “it’s all meant for safety.”

Injuries do occur, she said, such as her own repetitive-motion back injuries that require physical therapy now, and a broken ankle sustained from a fall at the Red Brick.

“No, people aren’t going to the hospital every day [because of injuries at the Red Brick],” she said, but “[the requested upgrades] shouldn’t be looked at as a luxury. It should be looked at as a necessity.”

Members of the council went to great lengths to point out that it wasn’t just the gymnastics program that stood to lose in the current budgetary environment.

“There’s not a sporty club in town that doesn’t have challenges,” said Councilman Jack Johnson. “It has nothing to do with the value that this town places on the gymnastics program.”

Newly sworn-in council member Jackie Kasabach asked if there was any way to cut back on the proposed upgrade so it would cost less.

“Could you do half of this?” she asked.

But parent Mark Patterson, a spokesman for the group, explained that much of the cost represented engineering and preparatory work, and the savings of installing fewer pits would be relatively small.

Bakken told the council that he had been trying to get the pits built ever since coming to Aspen in 1994 to start the gymnastics program. Mayor Mick Ireland then demanded to know why it had taken so long for the council to hear about it if it has been such a longtime safety concern.

“It should have been brought to our attention years ago,” he said.

A parent, Lisa Gonzales-Gile, said Bakken’s requests had been “shut down by the rec department, basically,” and argued that the Aspen Recreation Center “has been sucking all the money.”

Recreation Director Tim Andersen admitted that the Red Brick pits are not on his long-range plan, but he said the department has been replacing mats as needed when they wear out or are damaged.

“We are not running an unsafe program,” he said.

The department spent $9,000 to replace damaged or worn-out mats last year, and inspections occur every year to determine the condition of the equipment, he said.

Three council members ” Dwayne Romero, Steve Skadron and Kasabach ” said they had heard enough to convince them the city needed to look harder for the money to get the pits built.

The mayor, faced with a majority in favor of a harder look at the issue, agreed.

But, he said, the budget crisis was not likely to evaporate anytime soon, and “if things get really bad, we’re going to have to stop doing a lot of things.”

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