by Dennis Dalman
If it can be said Mayor Joe Perske has any parting words of advice for the Sartell City Council, it’s this: Get a timeline for building a community center and stick to it until one is – at long last – constructed.
At his last council meeting, Dec. 8, Perske suggested the council should put a community-center construction project as a high priority.
“I don’t want it to be a dream that never gets realized in this community,” Perske said. “I’d like to see it as a reality.”
Council member Amy Braig-Lindstrom agreed.
“Let’s not sit here for another year and spin our wheels,” she said.
All the current council members are on record as being strongly in favor of a community center, and city polls show residents have long asked for one for at least 10 years.
Perske referred to two senior citizens who spoke at the open forum portion of the Nov. 24 council meeting. Both of them urged the council to move forward on a community center that would include a senior center. Both said such a project is long overdue.
Perske, with some frustration rising in his voice, noted several potential locations have been suggested throughout the years, including one by a task force that the facility be built on property near city hall or as an extension of city hall. But, Perske said, those recommendations “don’t go anywhere.” Will it take yet another task force to get the ball rolling, Perske asked.
Council member Sarah Jane Nicoll said no, there should not be another task force formed. What’s needed, she said, is a council agreement on where the center should be and what amenities it will house. Most importantly, the council needs some solid cost parameters, she noted.
City Administrator Mary Degiovanni said city staff is working on a plan that will give the council a good range of both construction and operational costs for a center. Said analysis will be presented to the council.
Council member Steve Hennes is a long-time strong advocate for a community center. He said he is confident 2015 will be the year in which a community center will finally get the go-ahead. A project done in phases might be best, he said, noting a phased approach was used at St. Cloud’s Whitney Center during a period of many years. For several decades, Hennes was director of Whitney Center, which is a multi-purpose complex but which caters to the needs of senior citizens in the greater St. Cloud area. Hennes said he also favors a facility that can easily be extended for other purposes in the future.
Perske also said a branch library has long been a priority for Sartell residents and could perhaps be part of the community center. The Great River Regional Library system has already agreed to open a branch library in Sartell, and it’s not a matter of “if” but “when,” Perske said.
Council member David Peterson said he agreed with Braig-Lindstrom’s comment about the council not spinning its wheels anymore. There should be a firm timeline established by the council and city staff, with definite milestones which should be achieved on time.
Throughout the long history of a proposed community center in Sartell, there have been many unanswered questions or disagreements that have delayed its progress. Chief among them are these:
- Exactly which amenities should it house? Should it have a pool? A branch library? A senior center? Youth recreational options such as a gymnasium? One or more of those? Or all of those, and more?
- Where should it be located? Should it be retrofitted into an existing building the city could purchase? Should it be built on land the city could buy? Or should it be constructed on land already owned by the city? Could it be built near city hall or as an extension of city hall? Should it be built in Pinecone Central Park?
- A community facility would be built almost entirely with revenue from the regional local half-cent sales tax. How much will a center cost and how much will it cost to operate and maintain?
These are the questions the council will try to answer with solutions and then action in the coming year. All council members have agreed recently the creation of a community center is a virtual certainty either in 2015 or, at the latest, 2016.