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City decides to switch architectural firms for Wellness Center

The Wadena City Council voted in a special meeting Feb. 15 to decide which architectural firm will be contracting with the city to help design the planned Wellness Center; opting unanimously to go with Steven Miller Architects (SMA).

The decision follows the layoffs of two major architects responsible for heading up the planning of the new Wellness Center. Steven Miller and Michael Brandt used to work for multinational architecture firm Perkins + Will, until their division was dissolved from the corporate structure.

Now, Miller is forming his own firm with Brandt as an employee, and the city voted to end the Wellness Center contract with Perkins + Will and begin a new one with SMA.

City Administrator Brad Swenson said the two firms were more or less equivalent in terms of financial cost to the city. The council's decision came down to who they felt more comfortable with, he said.

"Everybody seemed a lot more comfortable staying with the two individuals that we have been working with, Steve Miller and Michael Brandt, and going with their new company," Swenson said.

Swenson also said the next steps include working to negotiate an official contract with SMA, as well as deciding on a final payout with Perkins + Will. He added that the architect dilemma has likely set back the Wellness Center project a month or so, but the time could be made up in the future, since the Wellness Center would be SMA's main focus going forward.

"I think they could probably make up the time and get us back on close to our timeline," he said.

Mayor Wayne Wolden said he was "very pleased" with the council's decision.

"Steve and Mike have been with Wadena since day one," he said. "They have walked in step with us, they've gone through blood, sweat and tears with us, they know all the different facets of this ..."

Miller said he was confident SMA could get the development back on track.

He said that he and Brandt would now be able to focus most of their efforts on the Wellness Center.

"Within the context of the larger firm of Perkins + Will, we would have had to delegate more of it to less-experienced people," Miller said. "Now we're going to be able to actually do a lot of the hands-on work ourselves."