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Council looks to add wellness center features, hire manager

Enduring frigid temps, concrete workers from Central Minnesota Masonry frame the footings for the Maslowski Wellness and Research Center Friday morning.

Construction of the Maslowski Wellness and Research Center chugs along in southwest Wadena amid the fierce winter weather.

Work on the footings should wrap up in early 2014. Then the $12.4 million building will quickly take shape when the pre-cast concrete walls arrive and are assembled. The city council is looking to add some features or shore up reserves now that engineers have found ways to reduce the project's cost. Leaders plan to interview candidates for the wellness center manager in January. Meanwhile, the fundraising committee is close to meeting its goal of raising the additional $300,000 it pledged when the bids came in about $1 million more than originally projected.

On Friday morning, concrete workers framed footings in sub-zero temperatures as bricklayers laid block in the comfort of shelters.

Before a walk around the job site, Brandon Larkin, the project superintendent for Kraus-Anderson Construction Company, said crews have lost six days to the weather over the past month. "There's a lot of challenges that come with the winter."

But Larkin is confident the project will be completed on schedule, by next October.

City Administrator Brad Swenson said he's hopeful citizens will be swimming in the pools and working out by some time next fall.

"I've worked on lots of projects throughout the years," he said, "and it's not very often things get done as fast as you expect."

Savings found

When it is finished, the wellness center will likely have a few things city leaders didn't think they could afford when they approved the project.

To keep costs at pace with available dollars, the city had already trimmed more than $200,000 through eliminating an emergency boiler and reducing dirt expenses.

At a special council meeting Dec. 10, when the architects and construction supervisors offered a briefing on the building's progress, they identified another $210,000 in savings, including removing a few exterior aesthetic flourishes (about $26,000), swapping copper for aluminum piping (about $20,000), changing some exterior metal to colored concrete (about $20,000) and switching countertop brands (about $10,000). The council approved the changes, though they opted to wait to decide how to divvy up the savings.

There are several options. Leaders could choose from a list of items they originally wanted but removed when funding was tighter, perhaps nicer lobby floors, an ultraviolet pool disinfection system or play items for the pools - or all of the above.

"We may just leave it in the contingency fund to have a little cushion," Swenson said.

Council members lauded the engineering savings.

"I think it's good," said council member Brian Hillesland. "It's going to be easier to stay within the budget and stay within the funds that we have and possibly add a few things like toys in the pool."

Council member Gillette Kempf called the possible improvements "essential."

"Adding some of the finishing touches will make the building warmer and make it more successful," she said. "It will be more of a wellness center."

Manager joins team

Twelve candidates have applied for the wellness center manager position. The council plans to interview finalists in January with the goal of making a hiring decision early in the new year.

"We want to have the manager on board early in the process," Hillesland said.

That way, Swenson said, the person can learn building systems as it takes shape. The manager will also develop a budget, decide fee schedules and hire a team, including at least one more full-time position.

Fundraising nears goal

When bids came in at about $1 million more than expected, the city committed $520,000 in reserves to help cover the difference - $150,000 from the general reserve fund, $150,000 from the liquor reserves and $220,000 from the electric fund.

The fundraising committee had already raised more than $4 million for the project, but it agreed to kick in another $300,000. As of last week, it was just $41,000 short of the goal.

"We're almost there," said fundraising committee co-chair Jeff Browne, executive vice president of Wadena State Bank. "We feel pretty confident we'll be able to raise the remaining portion."

To help meet the new goal, the committee sent residents a mailer this fall.

"To complete the project in its entirety and have money to 'Fill the Pool,' we need everyone's financial support to make this happen for Wadena and the surrounding area!," the mailer said. "We haven't everyone previously, but now we need to ask everyone! We need everyone's support."

For the final fundraising phase, the committee contacted existing donors and asked them to increase their pledges by at least 10 percent.

When the goal is reached, Browne said, the committee's work will be finished - at least for now.

"I think we're all pretty burnt out ... The well is about dry," he said.

"It's beyond my expectations the number we have raised. The bottom line is we have a number that was raised that was beyond anybody's expectation when we started. The wellness center is going to take us to another level. It's going to be a wonderful asset for many generations to enjoy."