City Council votes to rebuild Alta Canyon Sports CenterFeb 06, 2023 12:17PM ● By Sarah Morton Taggart
Alta Canyon is known for its scenic, Olympic-sized outdoor pool. (Photo courtesy Sandy City Parks & Recreation)
After years of discussion, many things are still unknown about the future of the Alta Canyon Sports Center. What amenities will it have, exactly how much it will cost, will it continue to be funded by a special taxing district, and will it even remain in the same location? These questions have yet to be answered, but one aspect has been decided: on Jan. 3 the Sandy City Council voted to rebuild rather than renovate Alta Canyon.
Alta Canyon is a community-based sports center located at 9565 S. Highland Drive. It offers fitness classes and personal training as well as access to a weight room, cardio room, racquetball/basketball courts and an outdoor swimming pool.
Use of the center has declined steadily since 2018, but Sandy leaders, staff and residents have been discussing the need to update the center for decades. In 2021, the City Council hired a consulting firm called AECOM to assess the condition of the building, consider the results from community input and develop four design concepts.
The council narrowed the designs down to two: Option B, a remodel and addition estimated to cost $35 million; and Option D, a rebuild estimated to cost $43 million. The vote for Option D was nearly unanimous, with six council members in favor of rebuilding and one, Councilmember Ryan Mecham, voting “present.”
“The current location works well for the people in the district,” Mecham said. “Not addressing if we’re keeping the district or making it citywide sidesteps an important question. There is still an issue of District 1 paying for a rec center that is hard for my constituents to get to.”
The council members who did vote for Option D were in agreement that the price difference wasn’t big enough to risk the unknowns of remodeling. Both options would add an additional 50,000 square feet and keep the outdoor pool more or less as it is. Added to the resolution was the expectation of capping the total budget at $40 million.
In September 2022, the Sandy City Council approved up to $20 million to renovate or rebuild Alta Canyon. At that meeting several residents spoke, asking the Council not to prioritize recreation over other city needs.
Before the council voted on whether to remodel or rebuild, Councilmember Cyndi Sharkey presented information about the possibility of raising money through multi-million dollar donations from individuals, corporations or foundations. Large enough gifts could come with the option to have all or part of the new center named after them.
“We voted in 20 million, plus naming rights, which should bring in between 15 and 18 million,” Sharkey said. “My goal is not to go to taxpayers. We could make up the shortfall by selling that property next to it. We need to stay within a budget.”
“I support Option D,” said Councilmember Marci Houseman. “I have a history of buying homes because of their potential, hoping the remodel will stay within a certain budget—and it doesn’t ever. You discover other things you didn’t know were there. The costs of remodeling will climb.”
“I fully understand that we need a city versus district conversation,” said Councilmember Zach Robinson, who represents District 3 where Alta Canyon is located. “I’m intrigued by the conversation about moving the center. But either way I think the new build is the way to go. I don’t think the building could withstand a major renovation.”
On a Tuesday morning in late November, most of the Alta Canyon Sports Center hummed with activity. One crowd of yoga students dispersed as another gathered. A woman lifted weights with the guidance of a personal trainer, and a group of preschoolers chased balls around a racquetball court. Other parts of the building were silent and unused, like a hot tub tiled over years ago because of a lack of funds to hire staff to supervise it.
The daily admittance numbers, not including the kids programs, are typically around 125-150 in the winter and 400-500 in the summer according to Dan Medina, the director of Sandy City Parks and Recreation.
While the center is well-loved and still plenty used, it’s clear that the condition of the aging building might deter users. Still, the staff has done all they can to adapt. Administrative offices were squeezed into a smaller space to make room for weight lifting equipment. A corner of the men’s locker room was remodeled to be a classroom. Cardio machines fill a former racquetball court. Equipment is stored in stairwells.
“They won’t tell you this, but (the parks and recreation staff) are just the most patient and creative employees we have in terms of continuing to make do with what we have,” Houseman said in November 2022. “They are working in suboptimal surroundings that in some cases could be considered dangerous.”
Heating and cooling is a constant struggle.
“In the winter it was hard to get some rooms above 65 degrees,” said Lois Stillion, the Alta Canyon Sports Center manager, in November 2022. She had recently installed a mini split—a device that heats or cools small areas—in the aerobics room and the preschool area using grant money.
“If the fan breaks down in the heating system, we’re toast,” Medina said. “We couldn’t get the parts needed to repair it.”
A plan to renovate and expand the center was ready to go more than a decade ago, but was scaled back after the financial slowdown in 2008. The city was able to make some improvements to the center, including new tile to replace hard-to-clean carpeting in the locker rooms. They also added a slide and splash pad near the outdoor pool and installed a turnstile to help cut down on staffing needs. No major improvements have been made since the center opened in 1984.
Alta Canyon is open from 5:30 a.m. on weekdays (6:30 a.m. on Saturdays) until 8:30 p.m. and noon to 4 p.m. on Sundays. The center offers a preschool, a before- and after-school program with more than 30 elementary students currently enrolled and summer camps for kids ages 3-15.
Fitness classes range from cycling to Pilates to Zumba and all instructors have been trained and certified in their respective specialties. Members get a discount on single classes and have the option to purchase access to unlimited classes.
The cost of annual memberships range from $445 for a family living outside the tax district to $200 for a single senior or student living within the service area boundaries. Whether they have a membership or not, households in the service area pay an additional annual property tax to help fund the center. The boundaries (approximately 8600 South to 10400 South and 1300 East to 3500 East) were determined in 1981. Around one third of Sandy residents and 73% of Alta Canyon’s members live in the tax district.
“For the most part, a majority of my constituency is quite supportive of Alta Canyon,” said Robinson. “When we were out campaigning last year, Alta Canyon was a high priority item in the platform I was pushing out the community, and it was really well received. I’ve been contacted by people looking for support for the center. I’ve also been contacted by people who think the city shouldn't be doing anything with the center. But mostly, people support it.”
In Sandy’s 2022 budget, Alta Canyon’s expenses exceeded revenue by over $200,000. Staffing costs make up the largest portion of the budget and have stayed about the same since 2020. The budgets for 2020 and 2021 were propped up with COVID-19 relief funds, a source that is no longer available.
Alta Canyon is Sandy’s only city-run recreation center. Just south of the tax district, at 10670 S. 1000 East, is the Dimple Dell Recreation Center, which opened in 2000. This center is operated by Salt Lake County and was built using the Zoo, Arts & Parks (ZAP) fund. Dimple Dell offers more features than Alta Canyon currently does, including a climbing wall, indoor track and pools and drop-in child care.
Alta Canyon staff applied for ZAP funding in 2005 and 2015 and were denied both times, according to Sandy City’s website.
“There is Dimple Dell and Cottonwood Heights (Recreation Center), and both of them are bursting at the seams,” Robinson said. “They’re always full. That proves that recreation in communities is important. I don’t think the two centers detract from Alta Canyon. I can see people from those communities coming here if we program it right.”
Several respondents to the community survey in 2021 said they live near Alta Canyon but have stopped going there and pay more for a membership at Cottonwood Heights.
There are two other major capital projects on the horizon that need funding: Fire Station 31 and phase three of the Public Works facility. In September 2022, the City Council allocated $7 million to build phase two of Public Works, $1 million to design the fire station and $3 million to design Alta Canyon. More recently, the Salt Lake County Tourism, Recreation, Culture & Convention Support Program (TRCC) awarded $494,000 to Sandy to create a conceptual design for a rebuilt community recreation center.
“My vision is Alta Canyon as the centerpiece of the community,” Robinson said. “I want a center that has value for all Sandy residents; something that our entire community will be a part of and feel they can come to.”
In the meantime, Alta Canyon will keep chugging along, ringing with the shouts of swimmers in the summer and bouncing basketballs in the winter. At least, that is, unless the boiler goes out.
“The center right now is kind of held together with duct tape,” Robinson said. “If we don’t make significant investments, something catastrophic will happen. By catastrophic I mean a massive capital expense that will end up wasting taxpayer dollars. There is an urgency to make a decision and move forward. We need to be quick but also slow and methodical at the same time.”