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Hockey may move forward

The Wadena City Council and wellness center stakeholders in the audience discussed the future of the proposed wellness center in light of being rejected for bonding by the 2011 Minnesota Legislature.

No action was taken, but the hockey program expressed a desire to construct a building separate from the rest of the wellness center.

The idea of fundraising before the 2012 bonding bill was discussed, as well as whether to build an indoor pool or outdoor pool.

Matt Lunde of the Wadena Hockey Association said that while the Hockey Association supports the wellness center, the ice arena portion is projected to cost $6.5 million and they can build one for less than $2 million over the existing structure.

Mayor Wayne Wolden said that the school has taken the position that there will be home ice this year.

Lunde said that the Hockey Association has lost a good chunk of its membership.

"A lot of families were on the fence last year, and unfortunately they're going to be on the other side of the fence this year," he said.

Mike Craig said that while it would be easier to separate hockey from the wellness center, the indoor swimming pool was key to the wellness center project.

Beiswenger said that as a former hockey parent, building their own less expensive arena was the more responsible option, and there should be a plan before fundraising. He said that the pool is what sells the project.

Council member Toby Pierce said that past efforts to get an indoor pool had not gone over very well, and that their chances with the Legislature might be better with a smaller request.

"If we don't have a pool and we don't have a hockey center, what are we waiting for? A couple of weight machines?" Beiswenger said.

Beiswenger said that before fundraising starts, they need to decide if there will be a separate hockey arena built first and if the wellness center will include an indoor pool, so that potential donors will have an idea where their money will actually go.

Earlier in the year, the council had received letters from kids involved in the hockey program.

"Those letters from the children just tore my heart out, and as much as I would like to see this be a complete project under one roof, I think you have to go ahead and do something for yourselves," Baymler said.

"Those letters really struck me too, and when we were in the final hours of the bonding session here this summer, I did call several of the kids who had written letters," Niles said.

Wolden said that he didn't like the idea of having hockey outdoors again, but it was important to have the whole project to present to the Legislature and that the existing 25-year-old slab of the destroyed community center could not withstand the pressure.

In order for the hockey program to start building, the insurance funds would have to be released, or they would have to do some fundraising.

Representative Mark Murdock was also at the council meeting and talked about the bonding bill. He said that Rep. Larry Howes was on their side with the bill, and said that Governor Mark Dayton likes it.

"Even though we were left out this year," he said, "this was strictly a jobs bonding bill."

He said that raising money and getting pledges were a good idea before going to the Legislature again, now that this next year is a true bonding year.

"I am very grateful for the work you put in trying to make this project a reality," council member Don Niles said.

Pierce asked Murdock why the Legislature is putting on more debt at all.

Murdock responded that Moody's or another firm tells them what their bonding capability is, and in his own hardware business, he looks at what he can or can't pay back.

Pierce said that there are lots of gyms in town, there is an outdoor pool that can be rebuilt and the hospital can make their own therapy pool.

Joel Beiswenger of Tri-County Health Care said that having the therapy pool share facilities with the regular indoor pool was the most reasonable option, and the one potential issue was the fact that the therapy pool would be off-site from the hospital itself.

"The one issue about off-site location from the hospital, is something that we've got an alternative solution if we get a negative ruling from Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in Washington when we pursue that," he said.

School Board Chair Ann Pate thanked the council members and city department heads for their leadership, and said the school district sees the wellness center as a way to expand the curriculum: using the swimming pool for physical education, the possibility of a swim team and tournaments among other things.

She said that in a recent survey before the tornado, WDC has a 65 percent case rate of K-6 students qualifying for free or reduced lunches, and 57 percent do not have at-home computer access. She said the wellness center would be good for economic development.

Pierce said that the 65 percent would probably not be able to afford a wellness center membership.

Pate responded that people can often afford them through health care coverage.