The Payson Town Council last week rejected an appeal for mercy from the Payson Unified School District and imposed an $840 inspection fee on the district’s just completed rope course.
The council reduced the potential fee from nearly $5,300 and instead imposed a fee intended to cover the town’s direct costs. Those costs include the $440 bill from an outside engineer the town consulted since its own building inspectors had no idea how the network of ropes connected to concrete-footed poles ought to be constructed.
The council’s vote capped a confusing, sometimes painful series of miscommunications between the town and the school district.
The district received a $1.5 million federal grant to support physical education classes, which included $212,000 for an adventure rope course, which will teach kids how to build both muscles and confidence.
Donna Moore, a physical education teacher who serves as the grant coordinator, said that the school district had called the town building department before starting the installation of the rope course. A company that has installed thousands of identical rope courses did the work under the terms of the federal grant, which does not include any money to pay building fees — since it’s considered an installation of equipment and not a building.
Someone at the building department told the district it didn’t need a building permit, said Moore, although she didn’t get the name of the person in town hall who made that statement.
However, a town building inspector red tagged the project and stopped work just as the private contractor was about to finish.
That set off a flurry of exchanges between the town and the district. The town building department concluded that they didn’t actually know how such a course should be designed and installed, so they hired an outside expert.
The expert essentially approved the specifications the private company had used in thousands of previous installations nationwide, said Moore. She said as a result of the town’s intervention, the contractor added some cement to one of the footings and tightened the guy-wires.
The town then removed the stop order on the project, which the district has since completed.
At last week’s council meeting, Public Works Director LaRon Garrett said the town usually charges a building permit fee based on the value of the construction. In that case, the inspection fee would have been $5,300, based on the $212,000 value of the rope course. However, he said such a fee “didn’t seem reasonable” in this case.
So the building department tried to calculate its direct costs in staff time and consulting fees. That totaled $840. Normally, the building department doubles the fee if the contractor starts work without getting a building permit first — which would have made the fee $1,680.
Moore appealed to the council to waive the fee entirely. “This is an installation. It’s not construction. We called and asked if we needed a permit fee for an installation and the city said it would be a $200 fee — $400 if we wanted to expedite it.”
Councilor Richard Croy expressed doubts about waiving the fee, especially since many of the students in the district live outside the Payson town limits. “If we waive this fee, that’s not fair to the people in town.”
Several council members raised other questions about the rope course.
Councilor Su Connell said she’d received citizen complaints that the rope course was unsightly.
Other council members worried about whether the rope course would prove an “attractive nuisance” to kids.
However, Moore said even though the district does not plan to fence the rope course, no one can use it after hours. Anyone using the course will need a 12-foot ladder to reach the lowermost ropes. In addition, operators will remove the climbing ropes after each use.
“They’ll pull the ropes every night to make it safe and secure. Everything will be to the letter of the law,” said Moore.
Moore said that such rope courses elsewhere have proven substantially safer than normal physical education classes.
“It’s a lot safer than dodgeball,” said Moore, which has an injury rate eight times higher than adventure courses. “But then, no good physical education program should include dodgeball.”
As to the view of the rope course aggravating some neighbors, Town Attorney Tim Wright reminded the council that school districts enjoy an exemption from town zoning laws — so the council would have no control over where the district built the rope course.
However, the school district does have to pay building permit fees.
Even for installations, as it turns out.