Focus groups take the lead in planning new recreation complex | Alaska News

The borough has one public meeting and eight in-depth focus groups in planning a new recreation complex near the Big Dipper Ice Arena.

A steering committee, approved by Borough Mayor Bryce Ward, is working with an architect to lay the groundwork for site plans for the facility that will replace the Mary Siah Leisure Center and Hamme Pool, but will also provide more , such as an additional skating rink, an indoor grass court, hardwood courts, a track and a weight studio as well as sauna, steam and spa facilities.

Other possibilities are an indoor playground and a skate park; multipurpose space, community center and meeting rooms; renting space for concessions, offices, medical/athletic activities and daycare to help offset facility operating costs. A playground, a skate park, basketball courts, ice rinks and an athletics track are considered outdoor facilities.

Borough leaders have been talking about a new indoor sports facility on and off for years, and a few years ago the assembly invested $250,000 in creating a plan. The idea is to build the complex in phases.

The unofficial name is the North Star Recreation Center. The cost was estimated at $100 million. How the project would be funded is unclear and is part of the scope of work involved in a planning and marketing effort led by Bettisworth North, which is under contract with the borough, and national surveyors Perkins & Will and Berry Dunn.

“Community members have asked the borough to plan a new facility to meet the needs of borough residents,” wrote Brian Charlton, superintendent of recreation for the Fairbanks North Star Borough Department of Parks and Recreation, in an email response to questions. “The borough also recognizes the need to provide an aquatic facility in the event that existing facilities have to be replaced.

Charlton wrote in a column in the News-Miner that the feasibility study will be ready by early winter with a conceptual design, cost estimates and management plan. Those details can’t be known until the components of the facility are identified, Charlton said.

The first public meeting was held Tuesday at the Carlson Center. About 40 people attended and about 40 more were watching online, according to Charlton. A recording will be posted on the project’s website,

The eight focus groups, held in the days following the public meeting, brought together 80 participants. They represented “a diverse sample of borough residents. Names of those to be included were collected from members of the steering committee, local sports, health care and seniors groups, local businesses and many other agencies and organizations,” Charlton wrote.

The project’s steering committee is made up of: Ben Roth, president of the Hockey Club Fairbanks; Beth Grey, Aging and Disability Center North Program Coordinator; Mark Oldmixon, chairman of the Parks and Recreation Commission and director of the Department of Recreation, Adventure, and Wellness at the University of Alaska Fairbanks; Mark Simon, an emergency physician at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital; Midnight Sun swim team coach Patrick Burda; Colt Chase, director of the Fairbanks Youth Soccer Association; Scott Bell, treasurer of the Fairbanks Community Hospital Foundation; Frank Thompson, facilities manager of the Tanana Chiefs’ Conference; Jennifer Probert, Director of Community Outreach, TCC; Steve Frank, former state legislator and Alaska Hall of Famer who belongs to the Fairbanks Community Hospital Foundation; Nadine Winters, executive director of Fairbanks Neighborhood Housing Services; and Wally Carlo, member of the board of directors of Doyon, Limitée.

The steering committee was selected in conjunction with Roth, who ran a private group known as the Polaris Group, which pitched the concept for a new sports and wellness center to the borough in 2019; Charlton and the Director of Parks and Recreation.

Focus groups met for 90 minutes and were asked about their length of residence in the borough, whether they supported the need for the project, and what amenities they preferred. They were asked to name “key community partners and stakeholders in support of North Star Community Recreation Center plans and programs,” Charlton wrote.

The first of several community surveys is being developed.

“Survey questions are developed by the consulting team based on feedback from focus groups and the consultants’ extensive experience in community engagement. There is an intent to include a question related to an individual’s willingness to pay for this facility,” Charlton wrote.

Further surveys, focus groups and public meetings are planned for the coming months. Updates on the planning effort will be periodically posted on the project website.

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