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PJ file photo From the Jan. 7, 1986 Pioneer Journal, several cars park in front of the new Wadena Community Center.

A brief history of the community center

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The history of the Wadena Community Center was brought up several times in the Aug. 31 city council meeting. During the meeting, council members and community members discussed whether the Community Center should be rebuilt on the same site with the existing hockey floor, or whether rebuilding should wait for a more expansive plan.

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"Jeanette, your husband and my husband signed that lease," council member Kay Browne said at the Aug. 31 meeting.

Council member Toby Pierce also talked about his own involvement with hockey.

While Browne made a motion to allow the Community Center and Hockey Association to begin immediate rebuilding of the existing facility, Pierce was among the other council members who preferred to wait for a new plan which might include an indoor pool and other aspects talked about in Wadena 2.0 planning meetings.

The meeting referenced events from 1984 to 1986 concerning the funding, construction and lease of the Wadena Community Center.

The Jan. 17, 1985 "Progress" article of the Wadena Pioneer Journal featured the construction of the Wadena Community Center along with the city library and an addition to M State, then called Wadena Technical Institute.

That paper stated, "Although talk of a community center had surfaced, off and on, for years, the first major sign of progress was announced in an April 19 [1984] Pioneer Journal article."

Toby Pierce, then the president of the Community Center, was quoted in the aforementioned 1984 article as saying, "This is Phase One of a three phase project. We plan to build a gym, pool and theatre in future phases."

Pierce had also said that the Community Center had been in the planning stage for several years, and they were ready to proceed with the building.

The steering committee for the fundraising campaign also included Harry Harrison, Sam Phillips, Jim Baymler, Kip Browne, Don Bottemiller, Jack Browne, Gary Davis, Roger Folkestad, Mike Leeseberg, Joe Majors, John Miles, Luther Nervig, Duane Ness, Allan Pettit and Ron Rickers. Other members of the Community Center Board of Directors were Craig Folkestad, Mark Hanson, Dave Houle, Bob McIntire and Jeff Wensman.

A kick-off dinner to start the Community Center fundraising campaign was scheduled for May 1.

"Several years ago, a similar project was launched, but failed because the bond issue was defeated. This time no one will vote on it and there will be no taxes," the article said. "Funds for the building will be raised through donations from area businesses and residents."

The April 26, 1984 Pioneer Journal said that the Phase I floor plans had been made public. Pierce was quoted saying, "The center will have something for everyone."

The newspaper followed the Community Center's fundraising progress from May to the middle of June, when it surpassed its fundraising goal of $500,000 by the June 13 deadline.

Groundbreaking occurred in October 1984. By January 1985, the Community Center was built with the interior unfinished.

According to the March 7, 1985 Pioneer Journal, Pierce told the Chamber of Commerce, "Because of the cold weather and having to wait for materials, construction is presently at a standstill." He also stated that rumors of the Community Center running out of money were false.

The article said, "Pierce also emphasized that the present construction of the Community Center is the first of a three-phase project. The phases to follow are to include a swimming pool, gymnasium, theatre and meeting rooms."

In the article, Pierce also brought up the use of artificial ice and a Zamboni ice resurfacer for the arena.

In August 1985, Dan Patton was named manager of the Community Center.

Patton told the Sept. 10, 1985 Pioneer Journal that work on the Community Center was in final stage of construction and that memberships could be purchased.

The Oct. 8, 1985 Pioneer Journal announced that the Wadena Hockey Association was conducting registration at the Community Center for the 1985-86 season.

The fitness boom of the 1970s and 1980s had taken hold, and the Nov. 5 Pioneer Journal had an article and several photos explaining two other offerings at the Community Center: the new sports of racquetball and wallyball.

Construction of the community center interior was completed in time for the hockey season.

According to a Dec. 17, 1985 photo caption and the Jan. 7, 1986 "Progress" feature of the Pioneer Journal, the Community Center held a dedication and open house on Sunday, Dec. 8, 1985 with kids taking to the ice for the first time.

The Dec. 31, 1985 Pioneer Journal said, "The ice arena is in full swing with open skating, open hockey, Wadena Hockey Association games and time available for rental."

In June 1986, the Community Center was leased to the city of Wadena.

Kip Browne represented the Community Center to the Wadena City Council when the building was leased to the city and allowed to be exempt from property taxes.

According to the July 1, 1986 Pioneer Journal, the Community Center was still in Phase I, and Browne told the council that the cost of Phase I might be more expensive than the estimated cost of $550,000.

Browne was quoted as saying, "None of the pledges have been used for operating expenses. Personnel hired to operate the facility is now at a barebones level. Operating expenses are paid from fees charged, memberships obtained, and day to day use of the center."

In the agreement, the Tri-County Community Center retained ownership of the facility, which was declared to be public property leased to the city. In turn, the Tri-County Community Center was employed to continue managing and operating the facility.

No one could have foreseen that about 25 years later, an EF4 tornado would destroy the Community Center building.

Legal issues from the original 1986 lease were discussed in the August 31, 2010 meeting.

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