To account for an increased demand for recreation opportunities, the Town of Meeteetse is preparing for a multi-purpose rec center.
“We definitely lack community spaces … just anything that would be multi-purpose,” said Brodie Bennett-Serres, recreation director for the Meeteetse Recreation District.
The Meeteetse Recreation District is engaging in efforts to build a new $1.3 million multi-purpose recreation center. The 6,600 square foot facility will be located adjacent to the Meeteetse School and will feature a multi-purpose sport court and space for workout equipment. It will also feature a large open space that could be used for meetings, large gatherings and other activities.
“We can utilize it however we want,” Bennett-Serres said.
Currently, the Rec District runs a fitness space next to the Meeteetse School that at its max capacity, Bennett-Serres said, can only be used by about 10-15 people.
The fitness center was previously located in an old office space next to the Wea Market, a cramped building that couldn’t fit more than a couple people comfortably.
When the real estate boom hit in 2020, the Rec District spied a financial opportunity and sold its building for $132,000 last summer with plans to build a better, more permanent structure for the future with the property sale funds. The District then moved into its current, temporary space next to the Meeteetse School, in a building the Rec District already owns and was made for after-school programming. Bennett-Serres said that move helped garner increased participation from the community and an improved space.
The Rec District has received nearly $100,000 in donations from the community for the new building from businesses, ranches and private individuals, including a $10,000 donation from the Wood River Ranch, used to double the Rec District’s collection of fitness equipment. The ranch also donated an additional $25,000.
“The community supports what we’re trying to do, (we said) ‘let’s run with this and see what we can do,’” Bennett-Serres said. “It’s been awesome to see the support for it.”
The new rec center will be located next door to the current location, in what is now a vacant lot.
“It’s more than just a workout room,” said Kristin Fong, northwest regional director for the Wyoming Business Council, during the March 15 Park County commissioner meeting. “It has this multi-purpose function.”
The District is applying for a $750,000 Community Development Grant with the WBC to help construct the new facility, which can be granted in full or in a lesser amount. This grant would be matched with up to $552,000 from the Rec District coffers. The District has also reached out to Pinnacle Bank for some finance assistance.
If the Rec District receives a partial award, it will build a 5,880-square-foot, $1.1 million facility. If it is not awarded the grant, it still has a backup plan to build a smaller, 2,100 square foot facility that will also be permanent. While it would cost $587,171 and likely be more limited than its current space, it would still be 3,080 square feet, a big step up from the previous space the District sold.
The Rec District also partners with Gottsche Therapy to provide physical therapy on-site, a resource Bennett-Serres said “has totally taken off.”
In 2019, 276 people used the rec center aside from Gottsche patients. Just two years later that number skyrocketed, with the rec center experiencing 385 visitors in one single month. Gottsche likewise, went from six patients in 2018 to 259 in 2021.
“It just totally has blown up,” Bennett-Serres said, with many of these attendees senior citizens who expressed to her their appreciation to have a place to exercise out of the winter cold.
The Town of Meeteetse relies heavily on mill levy funding each year and 2020 brought a sharp downturn for the community. Bennett-Serres is optimistic that the new facility will bring in a consistent revenue stream that the Rec District can depend on.
There are no daycares in Meeteetse, making the Rec District the only childcare provider outside of the school district in town. Currently, it only has space for K-5 programming and Bennett-Serres hope to add more programs for older youth with the increased space.
Bennett-Serres sees adding the community center as part of a larger effort to retain young families and adults in Meeteetse, a demographic of people she says often move away. She said in the past six months, the fitness center has had more young families as members than any time in the past, with overall membership up 30% from last year. She anticipates even more growth in the future.
“We truly believe the Rec’s success right now is totally based on the idea of this new project,” she said. “It’s so good for our community to see positive growth. We’re not just a little community that’s going to be a ghost town in the next 20 years.”
What started as “a little dream” for Bennett-Serres and the District has become a full-fledged project that will occur on at least some level. She said groundbreaking will likely commence by Nov. 1 after the Rec District finds out if it has received the grant and has put the project out to bid. If all goes well the facility could be open as early as summer 2023.
“If we could get the funding from that (grant) we’re going to have essentially what we thought was a dream become reality,” she said.
Although the Town of Meeteetse is sponsoring the project it will not devote any funds to the work. The Rec District has been facilitating community workshops over the last couple months to devise plans for how exactly the facility should be used, and the Town has also been hosting monthly economic development workshops with the Business Council.
For Bennett-Serres, “taking the risk” of spending money for a permanent facility is an important piece to Meeteetse’s long-term longevity.
“It’s pretty exciting, especially for a town of just over 300, to have a facility where people can gather,” Fong said. (It) is really key to not only retaining businesses and business owners that are already there but to attract new homeowners.”