One of the biggest challenges of ho- lding elected office is convincing the people who voted for you that an idea that might not directly benefit them is still a worthwhile project.
So it is with plans to build a field house in Soldotna — the most recent effort to construct an indoor athletic field on the central Kenai Peninsula. While there doesn’t seem to be any opposition to the idea itself, when it comes to paying for it, peninsula voters have a tendency to be skeptical.
At its meeting last week, the Soldotna City Council set aside $3 million in support of the project. The money isn’t to be spent right away, but allows the committee working on the project to use it as a local match to leverage funding from other sources.
For those with concerns about spending money on a big project — especially when the economy is down and capital project funding from the state is unlikely — those concerns were expressed by council members. The money allocated comes with strings attached, requiring quarterly updates on the project and giving the council an opt-out after two years if progress isn’t being made.
One of the bigger concerns, though, is that after a facility is built, Soldotna residents will be asked to subsidize the long-term maintenance and operating costs. Whether that’s a worthwhile investment depends on your point of view. If you think of an indoor athletic facility as something that will primarily benefit youth sports teams, it’s a cost you might not be willing to bear. Indeed, if making local high school teams more competitive with the big schools in Anchorage was the primary goal of a field house, we’d be skeptical, too.
However, if you think of an indoor sports facility as an investment in the quality of life for the whole community, it pencils out a little differently. In addition to all the youth sports, the facility could accommodate physical activities for users of all ages. Let’s face it, finding a place to get some exercise wasn’t easy when the temperature was pushing 30 below this past winter. Groups such as the senior softball players, who play once a week through the summer, could extend their season into the winter months, not to mention all the walkers, joggers and runners who would benefit from an indoor track.
According to local high school athletic directors, there is demand for indoor space not just from school groups, but the community at large.
As council member Paul Whitney noted, municipal parks and recreation is rarely a break-even endeavor in terms of costs versus revenues. But if you think about the benefits to the community beyond just the revenue a facility can generate, maybe that expense becomes worth it. Certainly, there are other examples of infrastructure projects that have enhanced the community in ways that you can’t measure financially.
We think the Soldotna City Council made a good decision both in showing financial support for the project, and in taking steps to ensure that support is well utilized. We look forward to seeing the committee’s next steps toward its goal.