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Wellness center plans presented to Howes, Freeman

The Wadena city council presented plans to Minnesota State Representative Larry Howes and Committee Administrator Tom Freeman on the proposed wellness center and southeast infrastructure project during the latter two's brief Monday mid-morning visit.

Howes is the House Bonding Committee Chairman.

Months earlier, the wellness center had been established as the city's first priority between the two bonding requests.

Representative Mark Murdock was also at the meeting and said both projects were important to Wadena.

City Administrator Brad Swenson presented the southeast infrastructure project during the first part of the meeting.

Swenson said the southeast section of town's sewer system was put in between the 1930s and 1960s and has a life expectancy of 40 to 50 years, but some parts are 80 to 90 years old.

Swenson said that with the sandy soil the city has been able to maintain and repair pipes, but the pipes are collapsing and cracking with age and root penetration.

The water mains built in the 1930s to 1960s are four inches, when the recommendation is six inches.

Swenson said that higher capacity water lines would make for better fire protection.

The draining system is from the 1940s.

"In the bonding proposal, that project is $8,169,000. We're asking for $4 million from the Legislature to help us pay for that. The city's share will be $4,150,000," he said.

Howes asked if the city was on the Public Facilities Authority (PFA) list, and Swenson said they were approved on the PFA list for funding for the southeast project, but it is a loan, not a grant.

A PFA loan is also with the sewer plant project underway and the wastewater treatment project.

"If we had to increase taxes to cover this project, we're talking $14 million, and that's a big burden for a town this size," Swenson said.

Howes said there were other ways to get funding.

Work had already been done on the northwest and northeast sections of town a few years ago.

Swenson also talked about the area of the sewer system affected by the tornado, which is with FEMA and not part of the bonding request. He said that the tornado zone compounds the financial problem with the infrastructure.

After the southeast infrastructure presentation, council member Don Niles presented wellness center plans and summed up the impact of the tornado and the decisions about working on the project to replace the community center and pool, the October 2010 funding for planning and working together with the school.

The structures around the original outdoor swimming pool were totaled and had to be taken down, and the community center was destroyed except for the ice slab which has a metal structure being put up for indoor hockey.

The city had asked Perkins + Will to come up with cost reduction options.

Before then, the wellness center was request was $19.5 million, which was also down from the original $24 million plan.

"The hockey program went last year out of doors on the old slab, which was 25 years old. They had originally wanted to rebuild immediately following the tornado, but when the engineers came here to look at it, they wouldn't even pressurize the system to determine what condition it was in because it was 25 years old and has metal links in the plumbing," Niles said. "We're hoping to have the ice arena as part of the project, and that's what we have in there now. But because they went for a year outside and they were afraid the program would die, the community center board had $3 million in insurance for the entire facility, and they've allocated $668,000 of that to build a metal structure over the old slab."

Perkins + Will had offered options with or without an ice arena for the new wellness center.

Niles said they were moving forward with fundraising to raise about $2 million to $2.5 million, but they are starting with private fundraising before going to public fundraising.

Funds on hand included $3 million in insurance proceeds for the community center board and $1 million in proceeds for the city, and the total stands at about $3.3 million.

Part of the wellness center includes an indoor pool, which Niles said would be nice to have year round.

The proposed project includes a therapy pool. Niles said Tri-County Health Care is currently using the AmericInn as a therapy pool, but it is sub-optimal and it presents problems with HIPAA.

The current plan has a walkway between the school and the wellness center which would make it easier for high school swimmers in the winter.

Howes asked about the hockey structure and if the $668,000 could have gone to the larger project.

Wolden said it was most likely a temporary structure, and it would keep the kids inside and save the program while the city was waiting on the wellness center. He said there would be energy savings in how the proposed indoor pool and ice arena would work together.

Council member Jeanette Baymler responded that if there had been a bonding bill last year and Wadena got into it, then the hockey program would not have seen the need to construct the $668,000 structure for indoor home ice.

"The high school team bussed to Long Prairie last year, and they left right after school, they ate sandwiches on the bus, they had their ice time there, came home and still had homework, maybe some family time," Baymler said. "One other thing about the therapy pool, it would be the only therapy pool between St. Cloud and Fargo."