Feature Article - February 2004
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Joining Forces, Sharing Resources

When combining assets could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship

By Mitch Martin


Picking out the china

Once two partners have agreed in principle to work together, the work remains far from finished. Even with a great deal of foundational work done, partners often keep finding out how different their views of a project remain.

In Channahon, the park district and the school board used a wieldy six-person working group to reach consensus and move forward. The group was made up of two board members from each government as well as Szoke and Channahon School District 17 Superintendent Lynn Krizic. The working group served both as messengers and spokespeople for the two boards.

"Until we put that process in place, I don't think there was the level of communication that needed to be there," Krizic says. "There was a potential for the quality of communication to affect the quality of the partnership, but we became more like a single voice once we put the committee together."

GreenPlay's Penbrooke says leadership must come both from leading administrators, politicians and the public. On the one hand, small groups of leaders are needed to move partnerships along. On the other hand, the partnership must have broad-based support.

"If you don't have that, it doesn't matter how well the operational people get along," Penbrooke says. "Otherwise you have the situation where an athletic facility was pushed by a particular administrator, and when he leaves for another job, then you start having problems."

Although Boulder has agreed to proceed with further planning with two private partners, the city has not at this writing made a final commitment. Like many governments, interactions with private groups can muddle roles, no matter the amount of thinking on the subject.

Sabbach says there are relatively few fundamental questions remaining about the ice rink project. The tennis project brings about a strange issue: Will the park district essentially create competition with itself? The city is one of the main, if not the main, providers of tennis courts in the city.

"It's a unique situation to be in: Are we going to put ourselves out of business?" Sabbach says. "It's just something we have to keep researching. How many tennis players are there in Boulder and how many can we support?"

City officials also are still pondering the difficulties of their novel land-lease approach. The proposal calls for leasing the 12-acre site to the two private operators for 20 years. Such a lease will be long enough to make it worth the private groups' investment in building out the sites. The city is hoping to provide long-term programming agreements to ensure access to the facility for specific populations, such as low-income and special needs children.

Lackey says a particular challenge is trying to figure out a buy-back agreement 20 years hence.

"Hopefully, both sides will be happy then and we won't have to worry about it, but is something we have to try and figure out," Lackey says.

Good communication

GreenPlay recommends that partners work out in a very detailed way the expectations for each side in developing a new site. The Channahon project was blessed with a relatively smooth construction process that came in under budget. Both Szoke and Krizic credited the working group and construction manager oversight to the success of the construction.

Because the project involved both governments and such a large project for a relatively small community, Szoke says the two governments were intent on making sure the project worked well.

"This was the largest public facility ever built in the community," he says. "People were definitely watching, and I mean that in a positive sense."

Krizic says the two governments had weekly meetings with the construction manager and contractors.

"We communicated as a single entity, and the flow of communication went really well," she says. "We both gave it continual attention."