Blanding considers Wellness Center fire plan

An update on the Blanding Wellness Center fire suppression sprinkler system, preserving a historic building, and plans to possibly increase city involvement in a nuclear power plant were all items of discussion at the July 27 meeting of the Blanding City Council.

Several months ago, City Manager David Johnson discovered that the Blanding City-owned San Juan Wellness Center has a listed occupancy capacity of 299 people, which is low for the size of the building. 

In further conversations with the state fire marshal, the city discovered the occupancy is low because the building does not have a fire sprinkler system.

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.

Council and staff have since been at work determining how and when to implement any needed updates to the center.

At the July 27 meeting of the council, Johnson reported the city had received a few additional estimates for the fire suppression sprinkler system, which fell generally in line with earlier provided estimates.

While Johnson reports they’ve received bids in the $100,000 range, that does not include the cost for new alarms, underground connections, or patchwork. Johnson says they are still likely looking at anywhere between $200,000 and $400,000 to do the whole project.

While Blanding City has funds adequate to cover the costs to install the system, city staff had previously asked if the council wants to hold off on planned upgrades to other parks and recreation systems.

The city council advised the staff to move forward with a planned shade structure at Centennial Park and a park pavilion installation. At their latest meeting, staff reported those items are moving forward as requested.

At their July 13 meeting, the council asked the staff to compile a list of facility uses that exceed the 299-person occupancy limit to see if the use justified the upgrade. 

That report was provided at the July 20 meeting. Blanding staff reports that events including youth volleyball and basketball tournaments, league nights, and the annual Tree for All event exceed the listed capacity an estimated 17 days every year.

Non-city entities also use the Wellness Center beyond its capacity throughout the year. This may include company Christmas parties, end of school year parties, the ATV Safari, and sportsman banquets, as well as other events that total 12 days annually.

In all, the city estimates that events surpass the building capacity 29 days a year. The information gathered helps solidify the city’s need to install the new fire suppression system. 

The discussion has also primed the city to revisit their recreation agreement with the San Juan School District. The agreement allows the two entities to share facilities between programs. 

Johnson, school district Business Manager Tyrel Pemberton, city Recreation Director David Palmer, and Blanding school principals and athletic directors will meet to revisit the recreation agreement.

Also at the July 27 meeting, the Blanding council heard from Winston Hurst of the San Juan Historic Preservation Commission about a historic building known as the Swallow’s Nest.

The stone structure near the Blanding Visitor Center was built in 1925 by Albert R Lyman as a one-room study. Lyman was the “Old Settler” of Blanding.

The Swallow’s Nest is owned by the City and was placed on the National Register for Historic Places in 1996.

Hurst reported that efforts to preserve the small building run into a consistent issue – water running into the cabin has caused the floor to rot away. The moisture is dissolving sandstone at the bottom of the cabin walls.

One source of water into the cabin is the city sprinkler system on the east side of the visitor center park. Hurst says the slope causes water to run into the cabin.

Hurst advocated terminating the sprinkler system on the easternmost 50 feet of lawn and replacing it with a natural landscape.

“My role here is to bring attention to this and make sure everybody is aware that it really is a fairly serious thing out there if we’re serious about keeping that cabin,” said Hurst.

The Historic Preservation Commission also pledged their support to aid the city as they preserve the cabin. 

Staff committed to take a look at the area and explore solutions to preserve the cabin.

The council also received another update on the Carbon Free Power Project. As a power utility provider, Blanding City is one of several members of city-owned utility systems in the West that are investing in the nuclear power project near Idaho Falls, ID. It is scheduled to come online in 2030.

Staff recommended, and the council expressed interest in, creating a resolution to increase the city buy-in from 2 to 2.5 kilowatts.

City staff will bring back a resolution to increase the buy-in at their August 10 meeting.

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