Council to vote on forming community center task forceIts been talked about. Hemmed about. Hawed about.
By: Jon Avise, South Washington County Bulletin
Its been talked about. Hemmed about. Hawed about.
Now Cottage Grove city officials appear set to do something about a long-discussed community center, having proposed a two-year planning process earlier this month that awaits city council approval.
City council members will vote Wednesday on the creation of a community center task force that would be charged with figuring out what a municipal activity center would include.
Mayor Myron Bailey said the group would establish what the scope of a community center should be, whether private involvement is desired or required, and if, in fact, Cottage Grove should move ahead with a facility.
The new mayor said he wants wide community involvement in the task force that could begin meeting next month, if approved. The city’s tentative work plan calls for 25 task force members, with representation ranging from the Cottage Grove Athletic Association to School District 833 to area nonprofit agencies.
“We want to hear, and have participation, from a variety of groups” during the planning process, Bailey said, to better understand what the community wants in the facility. “It isn’t that we want people that are just pro-community center.”
The creation of the task force would represent the first small step on the two-year work plan outlined by city officials, and the first formal move after years of community center discussion.
The ultimate goal, Bailey said, is to receive a final report, including conceptual drawings, locations and cost, and a recommendation on how to proceed — or not proceed — by April 2011.
City administrator Ryan Schroeder said he initially thought two years would be “a long time to keep people interested.” But two years seems an appropriate time frame considering the task before the group, he said.
Task forces for large-scale projects aren’t uncommon — a group of citizens and city staff met for two years laying out the East Ravine Master Plan before it was approved in 2006.
“You don’t want to rush this sort of thing,” Schroeder said, noting there’s no particular need to move quickly.
Looking past the current economy
With a sinking economy and squeezed city budget, construction of a community center in the near-term isn’t a possibility, officials say.
The goal, Schroeder said, is to have a plan ready before the economy begins to recover so the city can move quickly when it does.
Bailey acknowledged he would not ask residents to support building a community center until economic conditions improve. But now, he says, is the time to plan ahead.
“I think the timing is perfect,” Bailey said, “because you’ve got to look past the current economic crisis.”
Up-front construction costs, though, may not be the biggest financial question facing a Cottage Grove community center. Schroeder said yearly operating expenses are the bigger concern, far outpacing the initial impact to the city.
That’s why, Bailey says, he favors partnering with a private entity to operate a community center.
Bailey said he’s impressed with Maple Grove’s community center, an 11-year-old facility that draws 750,000 annual visitors. There, the city has teamed up with health club chain Life Time Fitness to provide some services.
Maple Grove parks and recreation director Terry Just said during the planning process city officials realized there wasn’t enough funding to include everything the community task force wanted.
So the city constructed its community center — a building that now includes a swimming pool, teen center, meeting rooms and two ice sheets — without a fitness center, instead waiting for a private health club to construct one adjacent to the facility.
“When they came in they attached right where we had planned, and built a walkway between the two buildings so it’s very easy to walk between the two,” Just said last week. “It’s like a mall … You’ve got two separate operations but easy connection.”
Schroeder said the Maple Grove model is just one way to team up with a private business, saying the task force would look at multiple ways to share costs and services in a public-private partnership.
“It’s as common to do it that way (as it is) to do it on your own, and I think it will become more common as time passes,” Schroeder said.