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Zero for Wadena in huge bonding bill

The proposed Wadena wellness center was left out of a nearly $500 million bonding bill in the 2011 special session, and city leaders said the project will have to wait another year.

"The word back from our lobbyist and from legislators that we've been speaking to during the course of our efforts to get bonding this session, is that we're very well positioned for the 2012 session," Don Niles of Wadena 2.0 said. "This was not a bonding year; the Legislature does bonding regularly every other year, and so this was kind of an exception trying to get it put in this year, and with the shutdown of the state government it became even more complicated."

"It was very disappointing that we didn't get anything. Everyone had their hopes up to get some funding and get moving on the project," City Administrator Brad Swenson said. "The question is if people want to wait another whole year for an answer, or do people want to get going on putting back together a pool and a hockey arena and fitness [center]."

He said that for waiting on 2012, the Legislature typically does not act on a bonding bill until close to the end of the session.

"I'm disappointed, but I guess I'm not surprised. I know that the Legislature wanted to work through a lean and mean bonding bill along with other things," Mayor Wayne Wolden said.

Niles and Wolden said that no local projects were funded in the session, so it wasn't as though Wadena was singled out. Other cities' bonding requests were turned down as well.

"Knowing that St. Cloud, Mankato, Rochester will be at the table for the 2012 bonding session, I think that bodes well for our project, because it's somewhat of the same nature, plus it has that added feature of being tornado recovery in the sense of replacing the public swimming pool, the community center and the ice arena that were destroyed by the tornado," Niles said.

Will people wait another year for the pool and ice arena?

The engineering report on whether the outdoor pool is at all salvageable had not been returned yet.

"I've heard loudly from folks in Wadena that they think it's time for an indoor pool. This is our opportunity to do that," Wolden said.

Niles said that the decision on hockey was in the hands of the Hockey Association and community center board of directors.

"We need to look for a possible solution to avoid a repetition of all of the time that was spent in travel, and the hardships caused by that," he said.

"The community center board is fully supportive of the initiative to go after bonding money and to build a new city-owned community center," Wolden said. "It is our hope that we can have no more than two years of outside skating for the Hockey Association. It's important that we get those kids inside again, and I'm going to do everything in my power, as well as city council, to try to make that happen."

Niles and Wolden said that the $750,000 in planning money they received in October 2010 was a sign that the Legislature planned to invest in the project down the road.

"We're told that state government does not fund planning to that large of an extent if they don't intend to ultimately follow through with the construction," Niles said.

The city has applied for the 2012 bonding session, and in the last council meeting, the wellness center was assigned top priority of the city's two bonding requests.

"The bad news is we're not breaking ground this fall," Niles said, adding that on the other hand, they might be able to use the planning money and contact DEED about site preparation.

Wolden and Niles expressed appreciation for those who communicated with legislators during the process.

"We had cooperation and assistance from major civic groups, from hockey player kids who had written letters to the city council, from the Hockey Association, from the Community Center board - very wide range of support," Niles said. "In the long run, those types of actions ... are very influential."

"I want to really thank representative Mark Murdock for all the work that he's done," Wolden said.

Most of the bonding funds were given to state projects and buildings, which included state colleges.

Wolden, who is also the business manager at M State, said that M State did not receive any specific projects, but MNSCU as a system was given $10 million for Higher Education Asset Preservation which helps keep campus buildings in good shape.

"Each of the four campuses - Wadena, Detroit Lakes, Moorhead and Fergus Falls - are hoping for HEAPRA dollars to help us maintain our campuses," he said.