Sticking my toe in the water

Rhonda Silence

Okay, I’m taking the plunge. Like I would do if we had a magnificent new swimming pool in a fabulous community center complex, I’m going to splash in over my head and express an opinion.

I haven’t written about the community center project before for a variety of reasons. I have been quietly observing, though. The folks who insist they didn’t know what they were voting for really were not paying attention. A search of News-Herald archives finds article after article on the run up to the referendum.

On March 21, 2009, the county board heard a report from a committee of county board members and other elected officials that identified the following projects: a Cook County civic center that could be used for an undefined variety of community recreational activities, both indoors and outdoors; an outdoor recreation complex at Birch Grove Community Center in Tofte; funding for the installation of high-speed Internet infrastructure throughout the county; improvements and an addition to the Grand Marais Public Library and a renewable energy facility that could generate heat and possibly electricity for public buildings in Grand Marais.

After more public meetings and discussion, the list was fine-tuned and in July 2009 proposed dollar amounts—$3.0 million for a county recreation complex in Grand Marais; $1.5 million for the Birch Grove recreation complex; $900,000 for Superior National at Lutsen golf course improvements; $9.2 million for countywide broadband infrastructure; $800,000 for the Grand Marais Public Library; and $12.0 million for the Cook County Community Center.

In August 2009, the county board voted to include those seven projects in the referendum. The referendum passed in November 2009, after numerous public meetings, including a radio forum hosted jointly by WTIP community radio and the Cook County News-Herald.

In April 2010—perhaps appropriately on April Fool’s Day—the county began collecting the 1 percent sales tax for recreation and infrastructure.

I still hadn’t shared how I felt about the actual construction of a new community center building or the other 1 percent projects.

One reason I didn’t weigh in is that I can’t speak for everyone at the Cook County News- Herald. Our paper doesn’t have an editorial board that meets weekly and crafts editorial policy for an opinion page. We are too diverse a group to develop a unified editorial stance. And frankly, we don’t have the time. We’re too busy attending meetings and doing research on the community center and all the other 1 percent projects.

I do have some editorial license however, here in Unorganized Territory. I get to use this bully pulpit to share my thoughts on issues, hoping to win people over to my point of view. Or at least to get people talking.

But the biggest problem is that I’m not 100 percent sure how I feel about the community center project. I’m glad I’m not a politician because I would certainly be accused of waffling. But in recent weeks, with recent decisions I am warming to the idea of a new community center.

As my busy grandchildren get busier, I can see the value in a multipurpose facility. Seeing a bored little boy waiting for his sister to get finished with a Girl Scout meeting makes me realize that it would be nice to have a safe play area nearby where he could entertain himself.

As a not-often-enough participant in Zumba exercise classes, I see bored kids climbing the bleachers and wandering the school halls, waiting for their parents. It would be nice if they could instead be splashing in a swimming pool or playing with friends in a game room. And, it would be nice if that swimming pool were zero entry, allowing toddlers to learn to swim in a lessthreatening pool and elders to enter safely.

With all the recent rain, I remember how hard it was to get out and walk this winter and I wish we had a walking track—one that is longer than a loop around a gym.

But like so many Cook County residents, I worry about the costs of maintenance or another building. The numbers projected by the folks from YMCA make me nervous. Yes, I understand that the projected deficit leaves out the money currently being invested in our various recreation facilities. Once those monies are calculated and if various potential donations are made, it appears that the new community center might break even. It’s the if that makes us all nervous.

I remember the promises and expectations when the ISD 166 campus was renovated and expanded in 1997. The Arrowhead Center for the Arts was supposed to bring in oodles of money and would pay for its own maintenance and operations. That didn’t pan out. There have been a lot of growing pains and although it is a lovely facility and it gets used by nearly everyone in the community at some point, it is not a moneymaker.

I also hope that we don’t invest millions of dollars to build something that doesn’t meet the community’s needs. Using the Arts Center as an example once again, the same process was followed. There were architectural drawings and pie-in-the-sky proposals that were whittled down to what we could afford. And we now have a very nice auditorium with amazing acoustics— that isn’t large enough to host a band concert or commencement exercises.

I see that happening now. The original plans included everything—a full commercial kitchen for events, multiple meeting rooms, agym big enough for indoor tennis and/ or huge banquets and more. All being reconfigured and reduced and perhaps made less community friendly.

So while I may waffle about my support when I worry about the expense, I stand firm on doing it right. I don’t know if I am ready to join the “if we build it they will come” crowd.

But I am in the “if we build it, let’s do it right” camp.

Always plan ahead. It wasn’t
raining when Noah built the ark.

Richard C. Cushing

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2012-05-26 digital edition

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