County considers feedback on community center

Jane Howard

County commissioners have been inundated with opinions about the proposed new community center to be built with Cook County’s 1 percent sales and use tax. Recent community meetings led to concerns about whether the county can afford to maintain the new facility when its school and hospital are facing serious budget challenges. A small crowd gathered in the county commissioners' room Tuesday, May 24, 2011 to speak up in support of the new community center, however.

In a work session later that day, the board discussed the project in more detail. Commissioner/Community Center Steering Committee Chair Sue Hakes asked for guidance from the board on where the committee should go from here.

Following are some questions community members have been asking along with the answers that were given that day. .

After hearing feedback from the community, is the county considering downsizing the project?

The county board gave Commissioner/Community Center Steering Committee Chair Sue Hakes the go-ahead to continue working on the project but to keep costs to $10,000,000. That would include the building, re-locating existing outdoor amenities displaced by the new building, and adding or upgrading current outdoor amenities such as a baseball field and an outdoor hockey rink with a roof.

That cost does not include furnishings and equipment or energy efficiency features such as geothermal heating or solar roof panels.

The committee recommended taking the multi-purpose meeting rooms out of the second floor and putting them where the Senior Center would have been if the Senior Center had wanted to be there, which it doesn’t. (See the related story on page 11.) This would reduce the building by about 5,000 square feet and save about $800,000. .

Are alternative sources of energy being considered?

Architect Tim Meyer said he directed the building engineer to design the building with the ability to hook up to a biomass steam or hot water supply. They are also looking into the possibility of using geothermal heat. He said the “biggest bang for the buck” in heating and air conditioning is when energy-efficient materials are used in the “envelope” of the building.

Commissioner Jim Johnson said building a longer-lasting, more energy-efficient building that will cost less to maintain in the long run is worth the extra cost. .

Why relocate the tennis courts when some of them were just redone last summer?

Putting the building north of the current community center to avoid displacing the tennis courts, skate park, and playground would involve blasting through ledge rock and dealing with wetland mitigation, which would cost about the same as building new (and longer-lasting) tennis courts (roughly $600,000).

Reconfiguring the footprint of the building to fit between the current community center and tennis courts would involve a completely new architectural design.

The committee is considering the possibility of keeping the courts in the same vicinity and replacing only some of them.

Where’s the. large room that’s supposed to fit big crowds for things like conventions and weddings?

The room that’s being called a gymnasium is intended to be used for multiple functions ranging from tennis matches to wedding dinners.

Is the school’s fitness center going to move into the new community center?

The ISD 166 school board passed a motion on May 17 approving the relocation of Community Education to the new community center, although some classes are likely to still be held at the school complex. The fitness center, started as a way of funding gym equipment for the students, is under Community Education.

Superintendent Beth Schwarz told the News-Herald, “No decision on the equipment has been made. Presently I think there is a good likelihood that at least some, perhaps the majority, of equipment will remain at the school. The board agreed to move Community Education staff over; there was nothing in regard to furniture or equipment. That is yet to be negotiated.”

Is the City of Grand Marais going to help with the project or not?

The city has made it clear to the county that it does not intend to get involved because of an open-ended contract it entered with an aquatics firm several years ago when the city was looking into repairing or replacing its current pool. The aquatics firm, Burbach Aquatics Inc., indicated to the city that it would pursue litigation if the city did not use Burbach in building the aquatics portion of the new community center.

Commissioner Hakes has discussed the issue with County Attorney Tim Scannell but did not comment on the discussion because Scannell could not attend the May 24 meetings. Commissioner Jim Johnson indicated he believes the city could still be involved in some way and said he believes its involvement is crucial to the project.

Why not allow the city to have some of the 1 percent funding to rehab or replace its aging pool?

The state legislation that authorized the tax will not allow the money to be used for a stand-alone pool.

Could the new community center be put into the Grand Marais Rec Park?

Perhaps. The committee believes the center should be near the school, however, and a contingency of community members lobbied strongly for more green space in the park when the Grand Marais Park Board created its master plan a year ago.

Could operating costs be reduced if the center’s staff was not employed by the county?

The committee is looking at the possibility of reducing operating costs by having either Community Education or another outside entity run the center. If the county ran it, it would have to abide by union rules regarding wages and benefits.

How many more employees would be needed to staff the new center than are already employed with the programs that would be moving into it?

According to current Community Center Director Diane Booth, existing programs are employing the equivalent of between eight and nine full-time employees. The proposed center would have the equivalent of between nine and 10 full-time employees.

Couldn’t the project be slowed down to give the county more time to consider options and to County try to get the city on board?

Cook committee inThe believes construction seniorand bonding costs will go up over time. Commissioners Jan Hall and Bruce Martinson suggested slowing the process.

“You don’t buy the first house that you look at,” Commissioner Jan Hall said. “You don’t buy the first car that you look at.”

“Waiting has a price tag, too,” said Commissioner Hakes.

Following are the directives Commissioner Hakes will take back to the committee after the county board’s discussion:

The project should move forward, but the county will need the City of Grand Marais to participate financially. The new facility should be placed in the least disruptive location. The pool should continue to be included in the design. Operating costs should be no more than what current amenities are costing now. The project should be reduced to $10,000,000 plus the cost of “furniture, fixtures, and equipment,” which is everything that goes into the building but is not built into the building.

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