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Big plans, bright ideas

Kyle Dykhoff talks about the potential baseball area.1 / 4
An artist's rendering of a possible Lake Wadena.2 / 4
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It started with a series of 19 community group presentations on needs, wants and assets. It continued with record-breaking attendance at a dinner for citizens to voice their opinions about how to rebuild Wadena.

And it ended with a series of plans to re-think Wadena, capitalizing on efficiencies to save money and a few dreams, such as a "Lake Wadena."

It was quite a weekend for Wadena with the Minnesota Design Team in town.

What/who is the Design Team?

The Minnesota Design team is made up of architects, urban planners, landscape architects and others who give their time to help communities plan for big transitions with their infrastructure and buildings, often after a natural disaster.

The team comes for an extended weekend, spends time with locals gathering their ideas, and synthesizes those ideas into action plans and drawings.

The Wadena contingent last weekend started out as 11 members and added a 12th: Adam Jones, an NDSU student who is doing a project on Wadena after the June 17 tornado.

Mike Lamb, an urban designer, Todd Johnson, a community planner, and Dan Frank, a community development manager, are co-leaders of the Minnesota Design Team. Other visiting members included Stephanie Howe, an architect; Marc Putman, a landscape architect; Dan Marckel, a land use planner and community designer; Duane Kell, an architect and planner familiar with Wadena because he made the last plans for the community center; Harold Skjelbostad, a landscape architect; Milt Yergens, an architect and educator; Shawna Meyer, an architect; Josh Johnson, a landscape architect; and Bill Smith, a transportation and community planner.

The team stayed with local families and worked through the weekend, first listening, then drawing.

Friday morning presentations

Starting early Friday morning, the Design Team heard 10-20 minute presentations from 19 local groups, ranging from school and county officials to fairgrounds representatives and Wadena hockey boosters. Each gave a PowerPoint presentation on history of their organizations, needs related to and unrelated to the tornado, what their resources are, and many other aspects of their involvement in the community.

They gave their building needs and their preferences for or against co-location with other entities.

Friday night: individuals' turn

A key aspect of the Design Team visit was giving an opportunity for anyone and everyone to voice their opinions about how the town will be rebuilt.

Many people showed up at St. Ann's parish center to do just that.

"The participation was fantastic," said Johnson about the roughly 250 people in attendance. "It's probably a Design Team record."

The Design Team asked the audience to respond to four different questions, then used a ranking system to let the public vote on which of the ideas should rise to the top.

Through that process, the Design Team drew some conclusions:

• Wadena people like the small-town atmosphere and the togetherness that comes with it.

• People see the school as a big asset to the town and a reason for pride.

• Large community meetings with input from everyone are the best way to generate ideas about the rebuilding process.

• Jobs, jobs, jobs: creating good jobs was at the heart of almost every response in one way or another.

• Local initiatives should include replanting trees, creating walking trails, co-locating the community center with other users to create efficiencies, reconstructing U.S. Highway 10 to four lanes.

• One of the ideas Friday night that drew a smattering of snickers was to build a man-made lake in Wadena. But the idea didn't seem so crazy by the next night.

Saturday night: holding up a mirror to the ideas

After all of the input was gathered Friday night, it was time for the Design Team to roll up its sleeves, put in its thinking caps and press some pens to paper.

This was clearly a town with a lot of immediate and long-range needs.

The Design Team's Marckel summed it up: "You guys have a lot to do. But we have confidence you can take these things on. You've got a lot to do, and you can do it."

Johnson explained the Design Team didn't come to Wadena to make a bunch of unrealistic drawings of buildings and neighborhoods the residents could never build or afford.

He said the Design Team kept in mind the "sustainable aspirations" of the town; that is, what would be reasonable and doable for Wadena, while keeping in mind four environments for building: natural, economic, built and social environments.

The team urged those in attendance Saturday night to create a "GROW schedule" with a checklist of how city planners will proceed with making decisions. Over the weekend, the Design Team made the GROW buzzword into an acronym: "Great Region -- Our Wadena."

After an overview, the Design Team began presenting its specific ideas and initiatives.

Job one: jobs

Skjelbostad said the first order of business was to establish an "enterprise zone" in the industrial park along U.S. Highway 71 South.

"The event -- the tornado -- has already resulted in construction in the industrial park," he explained.

The potential building of a railroad spur extended into that enterprise zone will attract business and attract jobs, he said.

An events center

One of the comments that resonated with the Design Team was the lack of space for large events in Wadena. For instance, when Tri-County Hospital has a Christmas party for its 540 employees, there's nowhere in town big enough for that gathering, so they have to do it out of town.

"Some multipurpose space is needed by the community," Skjelbostad said.

The Wadena County Fairgrounds might be a good spot to build that, the Design Team said. Not only would it be of great use during the many events hosted there, it could be a building to retreat to in inclement weather. Not only does the Fairgrounds need indoor space, the team said, it has the real estate to

support it.

A wellness center/hockey arena/Armory space adjacent to the school?

While the Design Team's mission wasn't to dictate where various rebuilding occurs, it did note the needs of the community center, hospital, hockey association and National Guard Armory all intersected in various ways.

For instance, Tri-County Hospital needs to grow, but it is basically landlocked. The Armory is a bit dated, and with a better space with better equipment, it could thrive. The space and equipment needs would likely be consistent with what the community needs in a community center and pool. A pool would use the excess heat generated by ice-making for its needs. Building gymnasium and weight room space could be accomplished for both the community center and the school if they were co-located.

There's a financial incentive to bring more groups into a co-located facility.

"This brings the need for less brick-and-mortar and brings more dollars to the table [from more groups]," Skjelbostad said. "You will become a magnet for some of the students you've been losing to open enrollment."

A rerouting of Minnesota Highway 29

It causes a bit of trepidation now to have a heavily traveled state highway running right through a school zone, especially when the high school, elementary building and M State are right across that highway from each other.

Smith, a transportation planner, said re-routing the highway to the north, just west of where the current high school sits, would divert a lot of truck traffic and tie the area together nicely.

Not only does MnDOT agree with those goals, he said, they're willing to foot a large part of the bill to plan for transportation needs in Wadena.

Smith also said attention needs to be paid to bike paths, medians and green spaces along those roads to make them more accessible and more attractive.

"Twenty-five to 35 percent of your land is streets and roads," Smith said. "Since they're 25-35 percent of our communities, they need to be more than just streets."

Smith said instead of slapping down a stretch of asphalt, Wadena should strive for "complete streets."

Connecting the town for walkers, bikers

There's a lot of beauty in Wadena's two huge parks and its downtown. The planners want to connect those through walking and biking paths.

Meyer explained that the downtown, schools, neighborhoods and large parks could all be tied together nicely by routing a walking and biking path through town. The above project -- rerouting Minnesota Highway 29 -- would go a long way to connecting Black's Grove and Sunnybrook to the rest of the town without the danger of crossing the rail lines. An overpass could be built as part of the 29 project.

Affordable, multi-generational living

Part of the problem with the way cities have been designed is like-sized and like-priced houses are grouped, and it tends to create pods of housing by income class and age. For instance, elderly folks often move out of their neighborhoods to assisted living facilities, taking their wisdom and expertise out of places they're needed.

Howe explained using a few model blocks in town to promote neighborhood-oriented living, having small and large, expensive and inexpensive living on the same block with varied lot sizes would be a plus. She said lots of 50 feet, 65 feet and other sizes would be allowed there.

"So you end up with a lot of varied price points," she explained. "With this, you're promoting multi-generational living."

Lake Wadena?

The idea that drew snickers the night before didn't sound so crazy upon reflection.

"We shall make no small plans," said Putman as he put up a slide of "Lake Wadena."

The idea of creating a man-made lake has been circulating for years in Wadena, which has a lot of amenities but lacks the lakeshore many other area communities possess.

"Is this remotely real?" Putman asked an initially skeptical crowd. "It could be."

He said digging out a lake and letting Mother Nature fill it in with water isn't easy, but the geography and soil in Wadena makes it possible.

"If you have a shallow water table, it doesn't take much to make a lake," Putman said.

He said the sandy soil is well-suited for making a beach, and a project like making a lake could be phased in and the sale of lots would help finance the project. He presented a map of "Lake Wadena" with a 70-acre lake and surrounding development on the 300 acre old airport property next to Sunnybrook Park.

Putman said the whole theme of the weekend -- attracting jobs, attracting people, attracting dollars -- actually fits quite well with the idea of building Lake Wadena.

"Everything we talked about is to build the magnet," he said. "This is a magnet."

How does it all come together?

The Design Team said the community has to have plans that address both economic sustainability while also daring to dream a little.

"We're not saying overnight you're going to grow all kinds of jobs," Putman said. "But you're going in the right direction. Think big. Think about how you can reinforce the quality of your life."

Lamb addressed the crowd one last time.

"You're going to build a new school and it's going to be great," he said. "This represents a community that bends but keeps on growing. Leave here tonight and grow."

And with that the Design Team was on to the next city that needed its help.