When it comes to the ice rink/multi-use facility, the Town of Mammoth Lakes is on the Mammoth Unified School District Board’s last nerve.
“If you don’t operate the rink this year, then this relationship is toast,” Board member Andrew Bourne stated bluntly at Wednesday’s Town/Mammoth Unified School District liaison meeting.
The frustration stems from lease negotiations that have been going back and forth between the Town and MUSD for years. The Town’s failure to operate the ice rink for the 2010/11 season was the icing on the cake.
None of the lease amendments that have been proposed in the past year have actually been signed by the school district, said Board member Greg Newbry.
According to Town Manager Dave Wilbrecht, who attempted to sift through all of the proposed amendments this week and outline them in a comprehensive manner, there have been a total of four changes proposed.
The escape clauses that continue to appear in each amendment, however, have been the reason behind the school board’s trepidation to sign on the dotted line.
“We hear a verbal commitment from the Town but then there are a lot of exit strategies on paper,” Bourne said.
“The Board is distrustful of the Town,” Newbry added. “The legalese keeps getting twisted. You can’t trust a partner like that.”
“Did you ever start a project you wished you hadn’t,” prefaced Wilbrecht before acknowledging that the Town indeed, has not been acting as a good partner in this project.
“You can spank us if you want but I think what we need to do is create a baseline and determine how to move forward,” Wilbrecht continued. “We have a lease we are not compliant with, so we need to gain MUSD’s trust again.”
That baseline, in Wilbrecht’s opinion, would be to have the Town live up to the current lease in place rather than continue to try to amend the agreement. The current lease charges the Town $42,000 per year to use the parcel of land located behind the library. It also says that the Town must operate the facility for three months out of the year.
Mono County Superintendent of Schools Stacey Adler questioned whether or not, with the Town’s current financial status and pending Hot Creek settlement, the agency would be able to afford the lease on top of the operational costs of the rink this year.
Mayor Jo Bacon pointed out that with the installation of the ice rink slab (Council approved a contract with Marzano and Sons at a Special Meeting on July 14 to get this project moving), the operational costs would be cut in half for the rink. Not to mention, the installation of the slab this summer will help the Town avoid having to return grant dollars for the multi-use facility project.
For the remaining operational costs Wilbrecht brainstormed posing the question to the community to determine whether it would allow the use of Measure R dollars for the ice rink.
“We have to put it out to the citizens and ask them whether or not they would support Measure R dollars going to run the ice rink,” Wilbrecht said.
Wilbrecht also threw out the idea of the school district setting aside $28,000 of the $42,000 annual lease payment for future partnership projects. He explained that then, when projects come forward that the district feels are valuable, the Town could match the dollars and the two entities could work on completing the project in partnership.
MUSD’s Superintendent Rich Boccia, however, felt that conversation would need to be dissected much more before it could even be an option on the table.
“We can’t even think about putting money into other projects,” Boccia explained. “With all the cuts going on we have to focus everything on the classroom.”
For the time being, the Town will work to complete the slab this summer in order to make the March 2012 grant money deadline. At the Special Meeting, Senior Associate Engineer Peter Bernasconi explained the slab contract would last 120 days, putting the completion of the project at Dec. 1. Following the meeting, Recreation Manager Stuart Brown said that the scheduling for the rink may have to be tweaked as it is currently set to open Dec. 2, which might be cutting it a bit close.
Councilmembers Rick Wood, Skip Harvey and Mayor Jo Bacon voted to approve the contract with Marzano and Sons in an effort to be a good partner, and as Harvey said, “show people that when we enter into a contract we honor it.”
Mayor Pro Tem Matthew Lehman, however, took a different stance.
“We can’t afford it, I vote no,” Lehman said.
Councilmember John Eastman was not in attendance.