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Hoffman visits Wadena council

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State Senator Gretchen Hoffman visited the Wadena City Council and wellness center stakeholders on Wednesday evening, saying that while she could not commit to anything regarding the proposed wellness center for a state bonding bill, she might bring up Wadena as a pilot project to reduce some construction mandates.

"I'm a little nervous about a bonding bill altogether, to be honest," she said. "I know that Senator Senjem likes bonding, but he also needs a majority of the majority to go for a bonding bill. I talked to Senjem about if we could use... the Wadena Community Center as a pilot. He was open to that."

State Senator David Senjem was elected to be the new Republican majority leader after Senator Amy Koch resigned from that position.

Construction projects funded by the state of Minnesota in bonding bills are currently required to be up to B3 standards on top of the normal building codes which apply to private construction projects.

"We had talked at the ... Wadena County commissioners' meeting, and afterwards we talked about some of the building codes, when they use state money, and how that's just because of all the environmental stuff they're demanding. And I talked to Senjem about that," she said, adding that she had discussed doing trial locations with reduced mandates.

Mike Craig said that with the ice arena out of the picture, the construction cost was down anyway. Before Wadena was rejected for bonding in 2011, plans were for a geothermal exchange between the ice arena and the indoor pool to save energy consumption.

Mayor Wayne Wolden said that paying more up front for higher energy standards could pay for itself in higher efficiency and save money down the road.

Council member Don Niles said it was an intriguing idea, but they have not worked with the architects yet about which B3 mandates they can or can't skip without sacrificing long-term operating cost savings.

"Communities like Wadena, Perham, whoever, will put the most efficient stuff in that their budgets allow them to put in," Hoffman said.

She said that some green initiatives are not realistic.

The revised plan, which eliminates the ice rink now that a hockey rink has been rebuilt on the original community center slab, is projected to cost $10 million instead of $19 million. The city is asking for $4.5 million, which is close to the 50/50 bonding match which Hoffman and city officials said is the recommended match for bonding requests.

New plans show the wellness center east of the existing ice arena parking lot, and across the street and north of the new high school with a link to the high school across the street. The plan also shows a proposed Aldrich Avenue extension north of the wellness center and ice arena.

The inside building plan shows an aquatic center with a recreation pool area including a long, straight section for lap swimming, a therapy pool and a spa put back in. There would be one gymnasium instead of two, two racquetball courts instead of three and a fitness area on the second floor.

Niles said they tried to listen to comments so the project was reduced. He added that it would have the only warm water therapy pool between Fargo and St. Cloud.

He said they want to get back to normal after the community center was destroyed by the tornado: aerobics are being held in a church basement, people drive to Perham for racquetball, lifeguards are unemployed and people are using the AmericInn pool for swimming.

Hoffman also said that her email feedback was three to one against supporting the wellness center project, and people from Wadena urged her to not go along with the council's request to introduce and support the bill.

She said that while she can't ignore the constituents, the situation reminded her of the Perham Area Community Center which faced opposition before it was actually built, and now she doesn't know anyone who hates the PACC.

Council member Jeanette Baymler said Wadena frightened Perham into building their own pool, back when they were talking about an indoor pool in the 1990s.

Hoffman said that she voted against the bonding bill last year, and even though Governor Dayton wants one this year, there is "not a huge appetite" for one on the legislative side. She said agencies have put in $2 billion worth of requests.

She said she is not in favor of a bonding bill in general, and that the state is spending too much.

The sewer project was also discussed.

Wolden said that the sewer infrastructure project, which is the second priority for bonding, is something where they are hoping to get federal funding.

City Administrator Brad Swenson said the city can only tax people so much - they already had to raise rates for the sewer plant which is not related to the tornado damage - and they have searched for grants but can't find any.

Wolden said that according to the Soil and Water Conservation District, a tree sucks up 250 gallons of groundwater a day, and with the trees gone in the tornado zone, that is groundwater that can get into the faulty sewer pipes.

Local Government Aid was also brought up.

Swenson said that support for LGA would be appreciated, and the city has been careful with its budget. Reduction in city staff has been accomplished by attrition - not replacing workers who have retired or left - rather than layoffs.

Hoffman said she doesn't think LGA works, has become a pork project and needs to be reformed.

Niles brought up the Kitchigami Regional Library, which has taken cuts from three of the counties, and said a library is important to democracy.

"I'm not a big user of libraries... but I know a lot of people are," Hoffman said. "At some point, people that believe that some of these programs are important are going to have to start foundations and going to have to be independent. We're at a point in this state where we can't fund everything."