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Input meeting set for wellness center

A community input meeting for the proposed Wadena wellness center project will be held Thursday, March 29 at 7 p.m.

That was what the city council decided during a March 7 special meeting in which Steve Miller and Mike Brandt from Perkins + Will and financial advisor Mike Craig gave updates on the project. They are aiming to have design plans finalized in the next few weeks to be ready for actual construction should enough funding come through.

Miller said if they are to start construction this fall, they need to get input by April and have plans finalized by May 1.

City Administrator Brad Swenson said it would be good to have a two-hour public input meeting similar to the Feb. 16 meeting at M State on the city's comprehensive plan.

Miller said a similar public meeting about the new school building didn't make a significant change in the design, but it was still beneficial.

Council member Kay Browne said people like to see the information before it is a done deal.

Craig expressed confidence in private fundraising efforts. He said they will probably get 6 or 7 donors contributing $100,000 or more, and that they will be getting signed pledges in the next week.

He has been working with Reed Zimmerman who wanted to do a feasibility study.

Craig said one of the questions was whether the new wellness center would have enough memberships to operate, but the current community center operating from a temporary location now has enough for what the future project would need.

"[Manager] Randy Jahnke should get a gold star because I got an update on the number of new memberships," Craig said. "We're basically up to the original goal of what we needed. These are current memberships to just a little rented room ... We're going to have to up the price somewhat, but we're so far ahead of where I thought we would be at this point."

Mayor Wayne Wolden said that on the public funding side, they are in Governor Dayton's proposal, the House of Representatives' bill and the Senate bill - the three that they need for bonding.

Wolden said that when he had talked to Sen. Gretchen Hoffman, he said she was appreciative that they had brought the budget down and she was making a case for it to colleagues.

He said if people want to do something, they can call and thank Rep. Mark Murdock, and call for Sen. Hoffman to support it since she had said she had been getting communications telling her not to support it.

Council member Jeanette Baymler said the Legislature is trying to be finished by Easter.

Steve Miller of Perkins + Will handed out a milestone project schedule draft.

"This milestone schedule is probably the best case scenario," he said.

The draft aims to have schematic design done in the spring, with construction documents by July 1, bidding by Sept. 1, demolition and site prep by Nov. 1, construction done by July 2013. They are hoping to be able to open up approximately Labor Day 2013.

The schedule's assumptions are that the Leaf River Ag site would be available for demolition by Sept. 1, pool construction would be protected during winter 2013 and the building would be constructed all in one phase.

Miller said they need to decide whether they would work through the winter, or put off heavy construction until spring.

City Administrator Brad Swenson said construction should start as soon as possible, because people were concerned that this summer will already be the third summer without a pool.

On land acquisition for the proposed wellness center, Wolden said that the DEED grant for $350,000 for the southeast rail spur came through and was the final piece of the puzzle. The wellness center is to be located on the U.S. Highway 10 Leaf River Ag property. After the tornado, Leaf River Ag rebuilt and relocated in the southeast industrial park, but since there is currently no rail service they have been using the U.S. Highway 10 property for operations requiring rail transportation.

Brandt said that if the wellness center is to be LEED certified, like the new school, they would have to pay for the certification; however, Minnesota's own B3 environmental standards mirror LEED without the extra fees.

Miller said Perkins + Will designs buildings to be energy-efficient anyway.

Craig said there was a lot of interest in the pool area, including having an outdoor pool experience, and asked if it was possible in the budget for a wall that could be opened during the summer for an outdoor pool atmosphere.

The pool plan shown at the meeting included a "lazy river" in the recreational pool area, with a current that would push inner tubes. The water slide would dump into the lap pool area and it was brought up that separate hours might be needed for serious lap swimmers.

The therapy pool would be in a separate room.

Initiative Foundation agreement approved

An agreement between the city and the Initiative Foundation based in Little Falls was also approved at the Tuesday, March 13 regular council meeting.

Under the agreement, the Initiative Foundation would be the funding agency for the wellness center fundraising committee.

At the meeting, Council member Don Niles said the benefit of this agreement is to ensure tax deductibility, and the Initiative Foundation would also handle non-cash donations and donor recognition.

The fee is 1.5 percent, which Niles said was the lowest range in their scale, and they had already provided $15,000.

Niles said a number of pledges were in hand amounting to more than $500,000 for the proposed wellness center. The goal is to raise $2.5 million, and a stretch goal of $3 million would add a cushion and add the skyway back to the building project.

The proposed wellness center would be paid for by a combination of private fundraising and public bonding money.

On the public end, Niles said that this week, the Senate is going forward with hearings on local projects.