Blanding addresses wellness center, July 4 booths

Political and religious booths at the Fourth of July celebration in Blanding, a guided outfitter renting space in the visitor center, and an occupancy issue at the Blanding Wellness Center were all part of the Blanding City Council meeting on June 8.

City Manager David Johnson reports that he and recreation manager David Palmer were looking into capacity limits at the city-owned San Juan Wellness Center during COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

The listed occupancy capacity of the building is 299, which is low for the size of the building. In further conversations with the state fire marshal, the city discovered that the occupancy is so low because the building does not have a fire sprinkler system installed.

Along with that discovery, the city also learned that if an accident or fire were to occur at the Wellness Center and more than 299 people were in the building, the hazardous event would not be covered by insurance and the city could be liable for other injuries.

Mayor Joe B. Lyman said he doesn’t recall any specific discussions about why the building didn’t include a sprinkler system when it was constructed a little over a decade ago. 

“I suspect that it was just a cost saving measure back in 2008, 2009 where they’re going ‘we can get this thing under the budget if we do this,’” explained Lyman.

Johnson says the city is looking into how to solve the issue. An early ballpark estimate put installation of a sprinkler system at $291,000, with a possible additional $80,000 to upgrade the fire system.

That estimate does not include contract work for items such as drywall, but there are cost saving opportunities. For one thing, the city could have the sprinklers surface mounted. Additionally, the city plans to look for available grant funding.

Johnson adds, “The last thing that we want is something to happen and we get sued, and instead of $300,000 to $400,000, we are spending $2 million.”

Mayor Lyman shared that the city needs a quick response, with Councilwoman Cheryl Bowers adding her thoughts that the problem has to be solved.

“I think we already know as a council, that’s where we do things,” said Bowers. “That’s the only building in town that’s big enough to house events. We have to have a sprinkling system in there.”

Councilwoman KD Perkins asked if the Wellness Center needs to increase rates charged for events held there.

“We’ve been super liberal about letting people use the facility,” said Perkins, “and if it’s going to cost $300,000 to $400,000 to put this in for big events, I think we need to start saying it’s not free anymore.”

The city could use some money from their recreation savings to cover costs. However, that would cut the savings in half. Perkins also pointed out that the city has plans to spend $300,000 in capital improvements for the recreation department, and that solving the issue at the wellness center might mean some other projects get delayed.

Council plans to discuss the item again at their upcoming meeting.

Also at the meeting, the council discussed plans for the upcoming Independence Day celebration in Blanding. 

Economic Development Specialist Pratt Redd shared that the city has received a $3,000 grant from the state through the Thrive125 program which celebrates 2021 as Utah’s 125th anniversary of statehood.

The grant will aid the city celebration, and in exchange, the city will incorporate Thrive125 as part of their advertising for the event.

Also, at the meeting, the council discussed rules regarding booths at festivities in Centennial Park. 

Prior to 2018, political and religious booths were allowed to participate as part of the festivities. At the 4th of July celebration in 2017, however, booths supporting the designation of the Bears Ears National Monument drew a crowd of those opposed to the monument. The result was some heated arguments during the celebration.

Additionally, missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had often set up booths to spread their message and pass out free water. The city received complaints from vendors who were selling drinks, including water.

After the ugliness at the 2017 celebration, the city received requests from some citizens that only food and craft vendor booths be a part of the festivities. This has been the case since 2018.

After discussion at the meeting, it was decided that political, religious, and business promotion booths are once again welcome at the 2021 Blanding 4th of July celebration. 

Mayor Lyman voiced his support for the return of those booths. “I understand people’s concern that maybe some people can get nasty and do ornery things and be politically distasteful,” said Lyman. “So what? That’s the risk you take to have a free society.”

Lyman added that in 2017, “It was the behavior that was out of hand, not the fact that they existed and had opinions. That was fine, but the behavior wasn’t good, and people complained about it, so this decision was made then.”

The council came to consensus that political, religious, and general information booths would be allowed and would be grouped together in one area of the park.

At the meeting, Pratt Redd also reported on the city request for proposals to rent space at the Blanding visitor center to a local outfitter.

The bid was awarded to Sunrise Outfitter. The city is negotiating an 18-month contract with the outfitter to rent what was the computer room – a 10 foot by 10 foot area in the Visitor Center – for $80 a month or two percent of sales made in the area, whichever is higher.

Additionally, Community Development Director Bret Hosler reports that the city planning and zoning council is working on changes that could encourage more development for low-income housing.

One item under consideration is to reduce – from 70 feet to 40 feet – the required street frontage for a property in the R2 zone.

Hosler says the item will likely take a few months as they carefully assess the decision and how it would impact the city.

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