Community Center Steering Committee debates details

Rhonda Silence

The Cook County Community Center Steering Committee met with its architect and representatives of ORB Management once again on Friday, August 24 to fine tune details before seeking bids on the project that was estimated at $6,166,710 at the end of July.

Dig deep for diving board?

There was considerable discussion regarding the proposed aquatics center and some debate over the depth of the pool and the amenities that could be included. At previous steering committee meetings, the group talked about the feasibility of having a diving board, something removed from the Grand Marais Municipal Pool at the end of 2008, and a water slide. Wade Cole of ORB and Architect Dan Miller of JLG Architects shared ideas on how to get the most out of the aquatics area.

Miller reported that the geotechnical information from soil borings in the proposed aquatics area had been received. He said the soil borings show ledge rock at 8-foot depths in the tentative mechanical area at the back of the pool area and at the back end of the pool itself. He said the soil boring at the front end, west corner of the pool showed ledge rock at 12 feet. To have a diving board, a depth of 12 feet 6 inches is needed.

Steering Committee Chair Paul Sporn asked if that meant blasting would be needed to give space for a diving board. Cole said, “Minimal.”

Steering Committee Member and County Commissioner Sue Hakes urged her fellow committee members to do what it takes to get enough depth for a diving board. “God forbid we want that five or 10 years from now and they say, ‘We can’t because these idiots didn’t make it deep enough,’” she said.

Steering Committee Member and County Commissioner Fritz Sobanja cautioned that it would be impossible to know how much blasting would be needed and what depths could be reached until the ground work actually began. “We could start digging and it could be 3 feet or 6 feet—or a lot more. We could very well have to adjust when we put a hole in the ground,” said Sobanja.

Miller agreed. “That is possible,” he said. “We can plan all we want, but what we find could change it.”

Cole said, “That is why there is a contingency fund.”

“This is our one shot,” said Hakes, “The party room, the other amenities can be worked out.”

Steering Committee Member Sue Prom recalled diving boards of her youth and the long lines to use them. “No one dives anymore, because pools don’t have diving boards anymore. If we had one, people would want to use it. It would be a draw,” she said.

Wanting a water slide

Miller showed a plan for a water slide that was partially outside the building. However, to accommodate such a slide, there would need to be an expansion to the west, which would increase costs over and above the estimated $250,000 - $300,000 for the water slide.

Committee Chair Paul Sporn said, “I think the pool portion of this project is maybe getting too big. We’re talking about a diving board and a slide. These are great amenities, but can we afford this?”

Steering Committee Member Jan Sivertson, a newly appointed representative from the Grand Marais City Council, said she felt the slide is important as a tourism draw. Commissioner Sobanja agreed. He said, “When I was on the park board through the years, this is what people asked for.”

There was discussion of other pools in the area that have slides.

Chair Sporn turned to Wade Cole of ORB Management and asked, “In your professional expertise, can we afford this?”

Cole replied, “I think we could—but we’d have to find savings in other components of the project.”

After considerable discussion, a motion passed to have the architect expand the perimeter of the pool and building to make the aquatics area large enough to incorporate a diving board and a slide, knowing it could be changed later. The motion was passed by the nine steering committee members on a vote of five to four.

Gym floor decision postponed

Finishes throughout the new and renovated space are still being discussed at a steering committee design sub-committee level, but the group gave some feedback. Commissioner Hakes asked designers to remember to keep some “blank” areas to be personalized by the community in some way. Miller nodded, “We have incorporated some ‘canvas’ areas, to be personalized by the community.”

The committee then tackled the question of what sort of flooring should be installed in the community center gymnasium. Chair Sporn asked if the discussion should be postponed until coaching staff could be present. Superintendent Beth Schwarz said coaches are also teachers and noted that they are very busy getting ready for school and sports practices, so she didn’t know when they could meet with flooring representatives. An upcoming training will be held in Grand Portage and Steering Committee Member Gene Glader suggested the coaches look at the multi-purpose floor at the Grand Portage school when they are there.

Sporn noted that the coaches—Head Basketball Coach Mitch Dorr, in particular— have endorsed a wood floor. “That is what they would like to see for their sports,” said Sporn. “They don’t need to look at other flooring, as they already know what works best for their sports.”

The committee asked YMCA Director Chris Francis and he said he had no preference, although he noted if there were a wood floor, he would be “fiercely protective” of it. However, he said, YMCA USA recommends wood floors for its gyms.

Glader said although he represents the tennis community, which would prefer multi-purpose flooring, “It’s far more than tennis and basketball. There is no question, if you want to use this gym for varsity basketball, wood is best. But for all other levels, I don’t see why it’s a problem. If we’re going to build a large space, big enough for events, with banquet tables and chairs, the non-wood floor would be best for the community.”

Commissioner Sobanja said, “I’ve played basketball and I’ve played tennis on all kinds of surfaces. I’ve played tennis on the current floor and I thought it was great. But also, this won’t be a varsity gym—there isn’t the seating for it. We need to look at this scientifically.

“We need to look at who wants which flooring and calculate who uses it most,” said Sobanja.

Superintendent Schwarz distributed information on the number of participants in school basketball, volleyball, track, cross country and tennis, as well as community education basketball, volleyball and tennis. She also passed out a chart outlining criteria to look at when making the flooring choices: prevention of injuries; performance; multipurpose use; potential for tournament play; maintenance; athletic uses; durability; new quality of play compared to current quality of play and cost.

After debating the merits of different flooring, the steering committee deferred a decision until after a meeting with a representative from Anderson Ladd, a flooring company. Miller will set up a site visit for the company to present facts regarding each flooring option.

In other business

Architect Miller shared some possible good news on the estimated amount for circuitry in the new and renovated community center structure. He said it is hoped to keep a lot of the existing electrical and mechanical equipment, which would be a savings. Miller said Dunham Associates, an engineering firm specializing in such retrofits, would be coming to Grand Marais to look at the building.

Steering Committee Member George Wilkes, a representative of the Cook County Local Energy Project (CCLEP), asked if potential connection to a district biomass heating system had been considered.

Miller said that would be something that could be addressed by Dunham Associates, adding, “It wouldn’t be that difficult to leave spaces so at a future date you could add another coil,” said Miller.

Cook County Emergency Management Director Jim Wiinanen spoke to the committee about the possibility of using the community center as an emergency evacuation facility—and about potential grants to help pay for building costs. However, it would be “quite awhile,” said Wiinanen before the county knew if a grant, from Homeland Security, would be available. The steering committee said it would be interested in hearing if the funding could help as the project progresses, but said they would not wait to hear if it was available. Wiinanen agreed to look through the 374- page plan to see how it could be applied to the community center project.

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