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More details released about new community center plan

The Wadena City Council discussed an alternative plan for the community center which had been brought up by the community center board. No representatives of the community center were there, although City Administrator Brad Swenson, Mayor Wayne Wolden and council member Don Niles had attended a Sept. 8 meeting with the community center along with other community stakeholders.

The possible alternative is a 45,000 square foot building meant to be a fitness center for Otsego, an outer suburb of Minneapolis which was hard hit when the real estate bubble burst. It was built but never erected.

Niles said it was a beautiful structure, and its original design incorporated a 25-meter pool, just big enough for competition. The estimated cost would be $4 million. An ice arena - modeled after the Buffalo facility - would cost about $3.5 million, or $4 million with new energy standards. Adding a skyway and other facilities in the wellness center plan would be another $1.7 million. With an extra "fudge factor," the estimated cost would be $11 million - a steep discount from the original $19.1 million plan from Perkins + Will to construct a building from scratch.

"The people from Steiner Construction and the architect did not have an appreciation and knowledge of the work," Niles said, explaining that they were unaware of the planning that went into the wellness center plans, the existing contracts with Perkins + Will and Kraus Anderson and the bonding request.

"I felt sorry for the fellow. He said, 'If I'd known [then] what I know [now], I might not have traveled up here for this meeting.' With that being said, it looks like there's an incredible opportunity," he said.

The conundrum is that the new alternative plan is over the funds available from insurance proceeds, which were about $3 million; for state bonding to make up the difference, the project has to go through a bidding process - not just given over to the company that had brought up the plan.

"If it's going to take state bonding, that means the city must own the project. And if the city owns the project that's going to be bonded, that means the project must be bid. We can't just give the project to Steiner Construction or anybody else for that matter," Niles said. "We know Perkins + Will and Kraus Anderson are already contracted with us and knowledgeable about the planning. ... There are some really good reasons to keep them on board."

Wolden said that the nature of the new community center is not a private purchase, but a public process which involves bidding, and that the city council has an obligation to communicate with Perkins + Will and Kraus Anderson.

Swenson said that there had been comments about Perkins + Will overpricing the building, but said they just designed the building that the community asked for.

Council member Toby Pierce said that if the project is expensive, many people could not afford pledges and memberships, and the city should only ask for what it had before the tornado. He asked about the therapy pool, and Wolden said that the proposed alternative building had room for one.

He said that some people are maxing out on credit cards and dipping into retirement for the money they need.

"People are hurting," he said. "It's tough out there, and I don't think you people are recognizing exactly how tough it is."

A special meeting was scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 27 at 5 p.m. to discuss the Otsego building with interested parties.