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Council discusses cutting costs of wellness center

Whether the city of Wadena ends up with the long-discussed wellness center designed by Perkins + Will, or the approximately $11 million project with the dark horse precast building intended for Otsego, the consensus at the Sept. 27 special meeting was that the proposed replacement community center should be lower than the approximately $19 million budget to be viable to the 2012 Minnesota Legislature as a possible bonding project.

Representatives from Perkins + Will, Kraus-Anderson, the Hockey Association and the Wadena Community Center organization were at the table, and there were a few other community members in the audience.

Perkins + Will had been contracted by the city about a year ago to design the new wellness center to replace the community center destroyed in the tornado, and Kraus Anderson - which does cost estimates - was contracted for construction. That fall, the Minnesota Legislature awarded $750,000 for the city of Wadena for planning and design. About $90,000 has been used so far.

Steve Miller of Perkins + Will said the idea was to use the previous expansion plans from 2006. The first plan came to about $24 million and had to be reduced. The Legislature strongly encouraged co-location during bonding talks, but it didn't happen - the school had enough insurance funding to build on their own.

Meanwhile, the community center only had about $3 million in insurance proceeds and was turned down for 2011 bonding along with all other local projects.

Miller said that a minimal building which would replace only exactly what was lost would be about 53,000 square feet, including about 32,000 square feet from the original ice arena. Funding for a 98,000 square foot building was requested to the Legislature.

Miller said the Steiner Construction building from Otsego is about 88,000 square feet, or about 10,000 feet less than the plan presented to the Legislature, so Perkins + Will could design a smaller building with a smaller budget.

"My opinion ... is that in order to get state bonding money, you probably need to be pretty close to exactly what you lost, and not a whole lot more," Miller said.

The less expensive, precast concrete Otsego building is up to code, but not at B3 standards which are required for state bonding funding.

Council member Kay Browne said the city cannot start a project and then ask for bonding money while it is in progress; the Legislature has to agree with a complete plan and only then the city can go forward.

Former state senator Dan Skogen, from the audience, said that since the state gave planning money, they want to see the plan.

John Paulson, chairman of the community center board, said that gym space is needed: the school gym is hard to get into for the general public, and gyms are cheap to build but bring revenue.

Council member Toby Pierce expressed skepticism that Wadena would receive any state funding, and said the Legislature cannot balance its own budget.

Council member Don Niles had numbers from the Minnesota Management and Budget Office which listed other Minnesota cities requesting multimillion recreational bonding projects, and Wadena has the factor of recovering from a tornado.

"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and with that we should not necessarily be restricted to replacing exactly what we had, because we are building for the next 50 or 75 years," he said.

Wadena Mayor Wayne Wolden said the wellness center project by Perkins + Will and Kraus Anderson should be whittled down to about $15.14 million, with $5.3 million local match and about a $9.8 million request to the Legislature and a new design and layout.