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City Council votes full speed ahead after Wellness Center delay

Members of the Wadena City Council observe as Steven Miller and Mike Brandt, the architects in charge of designing the new Wellness Center, explain the schematics for the new building. The council voted at a Mar. 27 special meeting to allow the architects to move forward with preparations for the center based on the overall project design approved in December.

The Wadena City Council in a special meeting March 27 voted unanimously to let the architects working on the Wellness Center project move forward using the general building outline plan approved in December. However, several council members were initially reluctant to do so before a future public meeting that would give Wadena’s citizens the chance to comment on the project plans.

Council Member Brian Hillesland voiced his concern that citizens seeking changes to the overall plan, or “footprint”, may feel stymied by the council’s vote. He used the possibility of people hoping for a bigger gym, which would increase the size of the overall building, as an example.

“If there’s going to be people promoting… for a bigger gym, are we wise to approve that footprint before the public meeting?” he said. “I know the chances for that happening are pretty slim, but that’s the point of the public meeting, to get some input…”

Steven Miller, the architect in charge of drafting the Wellness Center plans, said that the risks posed by delaying the project – possibly forcing more construction to occur during wintertime, thereby driving up project costs – were greater than those associated with voting to continue before the public had the chance to make  comments on the center.

“I think you’re more ahead by letting us get started now rather than waiting until you have discussed that, because what you lose in having us redo something is less than what you would lose by waiting,” he said.

Miller also suggested that the council should make sure the public understood that council could still go back and change the plans following comments made by citizens at the future meeting.

Hillesland then agreed with Miller in light of the idea of emphasizing the fact that the footprint was open to change.

Council Member Gillette Kempf said the public would have objected to the council waiting for the comment period as opposed to going ahead with the plans.

“I think it’s better that we move forward, since we’re already behind schedule,” Kempf said. “I think if our city, our constituents don’t see some kind of movement on this project this summer, we’re going to have a very unhappy population.”   

The vote last week followed a delay of three months due to switching the architectural firm in charge of designing the center from Perkins + Will to Steven Miller Architects. The switch occurred when Miller and Mike Brandt, the two architects that had headed up designs until that point as part of  Perkins + Will, were laid off by the their old company and subsequently decided to join a new firm formed by Miller: Steve Miller Architects (SMA).

 Construction Supervisor Chad Rettke of Kraus Anderson, the contractor in charge of the project, said his firm’s objective is to start the first phase of building in early August, This would involve leveling the ground as well as laying the foundation and footings. In early winter, the crew will work to get the Wellness Center’s frame up, and to have the outer shell completed. He said the most dramatic portion of the construction would come in the period spanning approximately from Thanksgiving to the first of January.

“It’ll go from just the footings and foundations sitting there to a full building in four, maybe six weeks,” Rettke said. “It’ll look like it’s done.”

However, in addition to completing the bare-bones building, Kraus Anderson will also have to guide contractors through installing plumbing, mechanical systems, ductwork, electric wiring, and fire prevention, just to name a few systems. Rettke was reluctant to give a specific timeframe for what would be done in the post-winter part of construction, saying the timelines for individual items built during that half of the construction would blend together. He gave examples of landscaping and tiling the pool as things that would be accomplished in the spring. Rettke was also able to say that the overall goal was to be done about 12 months after the planned August 2013 start date.

City Administrator Brad Swenson acknowledged the Wellness Center delay, but was confident that the project would get back on track if the digging at the future Wellness Center location was completed before the winter cold arrived.

“We’re a little bit behind from what we had hoped for, but I think if we can get the site work done before freeze-up this fall, we’ll be okay,” he said.

The council voted to schedule the public informational meeting for April 18 at 6 p.m. in the council chambers at the City Administrative Center.