Bellingham Sportsplex renovations to begin this summer

Facility to receive upgraded roof, HVAC system
March 28, 2023 at 12:48 p.m.
The Bellingham Sportsplex, a multi-use indoor recreation facility, is set to receive a new roof and HVAC system this summer.
The Bellingham Sportsplex, a multi-use indoor recreation facility, is set to receive a new roof and HVAC system this summer. (Finn Wendt/Cascadia Daily News)

Staff Reporter

The Bellingham Sportsplex, which is leased and managed by Whatcom Sports and Recreation (WSR) — a local nonprofit organization — will receive a new roof and an upgraded heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system this summer.

The repairs appear overdue: Inside the multi-sport structure, 5-gallon buckets catch water leaking from the 25-year-old building’s ceiling.

The building hosts youth camps and events and houses the indoor field and rink for Bellingham United FC and the Bellingham Blazers junior hockey team.

The City of Bellingham has dedicated funds to replace the roof, HVAC system and electricity service, Bellingham Parks Director Nicole Oliver said in an email. Indoor renovations will not be included in these upgrades.

photo  Holes in the Sportsplex's ceiling drip water onto the floor below. The City of Bellingham has dedicated funds to replace the roof, HVAC system and electricity service. (Finn Wendt/Cascadia Daily News)  

The work will be in two phases, beginning with the roof. The city has the design nearly complete and is awaiting permits.

In 2019, the City of Bellingham declared the Sportsplex as surplus, moving toward a potential sale to WSR, which planned to refurbish the building. The city still owns the building, as COVID-19 “severely impacted” WSR and the Sportsplex as a place of business, Oliver said.

After the Bellingham City Council approved the surplus of the building, the city and WSR had an appraisal as well as a purchase and sale agreement, but it was never completed.

“One of the goals of the sale was Whatcom Sports and Recreation (WSR) would be able to leverage financing to complete the roof and HVAC system upgrades once they owned the facility, and they could do those things at a lower cost than the city,” Oliver said.

Marc Ronney, WSR's executive director, said the organization and the city were about two weeks away from going to the city council for approval of the sale when the pandemic shutdowns were implemented on March 19, 2020.

“We’re headed down the right road,” Ronney said. “[The city has] been very supportive, and we’re happy to be working with them to try to keep this facility open for the kids.”

photo  Buckets line the floors of the building, catching water from the leaky 25-year-old ceiling. (Finn Wendt/Cascadia Daily News)  

WSR projected in 2019 it would cost around $5 million to purchase the building and complete the renovations, which would include a $430,000 roof, new bleachers and access to the upper level, among other items, as reported by The Bellingham Herald.

That price would not remain the same in a new sale, as it would include what the city still owes on the bond for the building and would be adjusted further following this summer's renovations. A timeline for a potential sale is undetermined, Ronney said.

Those indoor renovations, including upstairs office spaces and a full-time food and beverage operation, should be achievable in the next three to five years, he said.

In his proposed 2023–24 budget, Bellingham Mayor Seth Fleetwood included $30 million of investments toward new parks and existing facilities.

The Bellingham Parks and Recreation Department “will perform a major refurbishment of the Sportsplex,” according to the mayor's Oct. 1, 2022 budget message. 

Included in the budget was a proposed $3.5 million for upgrades to the building in addition to the Sportsplex Fund, which is “dedicated to accumulating funds for maintenance and repairs to the Sportsplex in accordance with the lease agreement between the city and the Whatcom Soccer Commission.”

photo  The size and severity of the holes in the building's ceiling vary. (Finn Wendt/Cascadia Daily News)  

The city and WSR agreed on a revised one-year lease agreement on Nov. 21, 2022, with the goal of getting WSR “solvent and able to purchase the building in a few years,” Oliver said.

WSR currently owes more than $500,000 in past-due rent to the city through Sept. 30, 2022, according to the agreement. That debt will be included in the sale price of the building, Ronney added.

“We’re actually in a pretty good financial position right now, compared to where we have been the last couple years,” Ronney said. “The roof is the next big hurdle for both sides.”

The lease modification included a notation that “the purpose of this agreement is to ensure the continued operation of the Sportsplex while the parties work toward a long-term relationship that will maximize the public benefit, protect the asset, and minimize the need for public operational funds in the future.”

WSR and the city, under the terms of the agreement, will meet monthly to discuss repairs and improvements to the building. Ronney said WSR views the best solution as making the Sportsplex two ice rinks while building a new indoor multi-use facility in the Civic Field Complex or at the Phillips 66 Soccer Park in Ferndale, which would be cheaper than constructing a new ice rink.

“We’d be in a lot better place had that not happened back there in 2019,” Ronney said. “The inside of the facility would be redone, and we’d be looking good. But it just got kicked back a couple years.”

photo  The ice rink's walls are battered from years of use, though the interior of the building will not be included in this summer's renovations. (Finn Wendt/Cascadia Daily News)  

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