TWIN FALLS — Twin Falls residents will likely see fewer city projects under construction in 2018, but it will be a year of planning for the next several decades.
As the city experiences substantial boosts in population, the government is dealing with the growing pains. Discussions have already begun on how the city will address those challenges.
This year, the city will be focusing on several major questions: What will a new urban designation mean for Twin Falls’ transportation and infrastructure? What is the future of the city’s fire stations and department? What will bring people to the heart of downtown? And what are residents’ recreational needs?
1. Metropolitan Statistical Area
Twin Falls city staff were surprised to learn in December that Twin Falls and Jerome counties were designated a metropolitan statistical area — years sooner than anyone expected.
“The playing conditions have changed,” City Manager Travis Rothweiler told the Times-News Dec. 14.
But the city is still discovering just how that changes things, and where it will need to go from here. Those efforts will continue throughout 2018 and may include discussions about forming a Metropolitan Planning Organization to develop a bus system. The counties will also need to be involved.
2. Fire stations evaluation
The current city administration inherited fire stations that have been in place for more than 40 years, Deputy City Manager Brian Pike said.
“We benefited from the fact that this community 40 years ago got this picture right,” Pike said.
The city’s newest fire station was constructed in 1978. Now, Pike added, “We have a number of facilities that are reaching the end of their level of service.”
The current configurations of substations don’t have any spaces for any female firefighters to have personal spaces and restrooms. The city could take measures to accommodate them now, if needed, Rothweiler said, but it would not be the most convenient way to do so.
This year, a firm will analyze the city’s architectural needs for existing and future substations. The firm has reached out to fire department staff to see how remodels or new substations could accommodate their needs. The city wants to plan for decades out.
Meanwhile, a committee is also reviewing 23 applications it received from around the country to fill the vacancy left by former fire chief Tim Soule. Soule resigned in October after having been on administrative leave for weeks, for reasons the city has not disclosed. He’d been in the position for only one year.
“The size of this pool is larger than the last pool,” Rothweiler said.
All of the candidates who applied currently live outside the Magic Valley. In mid-December, 10 semi-finalists were moving forward to a round of Skype interviews, after which Rothweiler hoped to select three to five finalists.
These finalists will meet city staff and tour the community in the second week of January, then go through a thorough vetting process. Rothweiler hoped to have someone on-the-ground by March 1 — and certainly no later than April 1.
The new chief will be expected to have an ability to establish partnerships and collaborate, he said.
3. Downtown commons
At least one construction project will be a continuation of work in 2017. The downtown commons, on Main Avenue and Hansen Street across from city hall, is already under construction. The Urban Renewal Agency owns the property that used to house the Rogerson Hotel, and it will turn it over to the city once completed.
The $2.1 million project is designed, with permits in, URA Executive Director Nathan Murray said. The first step of the project will be constructing restrooms and a storage area. The restrooms will sit between an alley and a parking lot at Hansen Street East and Second Avenue East. The alley, Murray said, will then become somewhat of an impromptu stage.
The plaza itself will have brick pavers sloping gradually toward the alley, allowing for stadium seating. Planters, tables and chairs, and a statue of John Hayes will decorate the community gathering space.
A flat, circular splash pad is also planned, with a 40-foot diameter. Murray hopes that eventually, the city could hire a company to bring in a portable ice rink to go over the splash pad area in the winter.
The entire project should be finished and open by early summer, he said. They city will allow for events to be scheduled, including farmers markets, yoga and concerts. Murray’s goal is to have 250 days of the year filled with events.
4. Recreation center study
In July, the City Council appointed a 13-member ad-hoc committee to study, design and secure funding for a recreation center in Twin Falls.
“The recreation center committee right now is very much in its infancy,” Rothweiler said.
The committee was given the thumbs-up to negotiate a contract for a feasibility study. This contract could come back to the Council for approval this year, and the firm would then begin its work.
There’s been no timeline established for when this work would be complete, but the committee is expected to report back to the City Council on the cost to build a recreation center, what it would take to operate one, and what partnerships may be needed.