Friends chatting

Montrose County resident Dee Laird, left, talks with Montrose Recreation District Executive Director Ken Sherbenou Wednesday afternoon in front of the new Community Recreation Center. 

• Laird was a leader of ‘Stop the Wreck’ group

• Sherbenou calls new CRC a facility for ‘everybody’

• Laird says he encourages those against CRC to check it out

A handshake between Dee Laird and Ken Sherbenou may have once seemed improbable to some.

As executive director of the Montrose Recreation District, Sherbenou championed efforts for Measure B, which asked voters in 2014 to approve a 0.3 percent sales tax to support construction of the Community Recreation Center. Laird, a longtime Montrose resident, was a strong vocal leader of the “Stop the Wreck” group that publicly opposed the “methodology” for funding the CRC.

The measure to fund the CRC passed by a slim margin in April 2014, and more than two years later, the state-of-the-art-facility is quickly approaching its official grand opening. As Sherbenou came close to the CRC’s doors recently, he looked pleasantly surprised to see Laird.

“It’s impressive,” Laird told Sherbenou during their handshake.

Laird toured the facility a few days ago after hearing praise from family members who checked it out earlier last week, and said he came away with a similar opinion.

“It’s going to be a crown jewel for the Western Slope,” Laird said. “It’s going to be a real asset to our community; it’s going to help economic development by bringing more visitors to Montrose.”

Laird, who wrote a guest editorial in the Montrose Daily Press a few years ago against the plan for the CRC, stressed he has never been opposed to a new recreation center. He said he and his group were against the financing for it.

Among the longtime resident’s reasons were he felt the tax increase was not good for Montrose at a time it was in a depressed state. Laird, though, isn’t a sore loser or angry the issue passed.

“That’s water under the bridge, all of it. We were never opposed to the idea of a new rec center,” he assured as he walked around the CRC’s second level. “We thought it was premature at the time, but now it’s here. The almost finished product is impressive, and the district has done an excellent job in developing a facility that will be a great asset in many ways. It looks like they have thought of everything in here.”

Sherbenou acknowledged he has a history with Laird, but noted he was pleased to hear his latest thoughts on the CRC just days shy of its grand opening (Jan. 27).

“There was nobody who was more vocally opposed than Dee, and he was harsh. He was aggressive,” Sherbenou said. “But I am happy to see him in here. We may have disagreed, but I really like Dee. He is such a gentleman. Seeing him again, I am glad to be able to talk with him and answer his questions. I am very thankful he has given this project another chance. ”

The MRD is already seeing a lot of interest in the new rec center. Sherbenou said his organization had 855 passes at the end of 2016, but sold 395 more between Jan. 9-13. As of Jan. 13, the MRD has issued 1,270 passes, according to Sherbenou, who added that brings the district to 48 percent of its total pass goal.

“Annual passes comprise 71 percent of our annual operating revenue goal according to the pro forma, which projects operational revenue and operational expense,” Sherbenou said. “So, annual passes are our best indicator of how we are doing regarding the important revenue stream of operational revenue, which should largely offset operational cost.”

Laird seemed delighted to hear the MRD had seen a surge in new members joining, noting that may be a good indicator that costs of the CRC may be paid off earlier than initially projected. He reiterated though he may not agree with the financing methodology for the CRC, he isn’t dwelling on it.

“There are a lot of people still ticked off. They hold a grudge, and you cannot hold a grudge. It’s water under the bridge,” Laird said. “I will tell all of them when I run into them to at least go look at it and see what you think.”

Minutes after Laird left, Sherbenou viewed the CRC’s climbing wall and reflected on his exchange with Laird. The debate over the CRC’s funding was a controversial topic in the community, Sherbenou acknowledged, but he appeared to have hope for the future.

“People have different opinions, I appreciate that. As I wrote in my recent editorial (see Jan. 15 edition of the Montrose Daily Press or mon, skepticism helped our plan be stronger,” he said.

“It was great to have Dee in this facility, and I appreciate his kind words about it. I hope people will take away something from his words. Now that the rec (center) is open, it’s the whole community’s. This is not a facility for only those who supported it; it’s everybody’s.”

The Montrose Community Recreation Center is at 16350 Woodgate Road.

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