by Dennis Dalman
The proposed Sartell Community Center should contain indoor playing fields and other athletic-recreational amenities, according to about a dozen speakers during a public-input meeting April 20 at Sartell City Hall.
After a welcome by Sartell Mayor Sarah Jane Nicoll, city administrator Mary Degiovanni moderated the meeting and invited speakers to step forward to the microphone to share their ideas.
Also attending as listeners were three men who are instrumental in helping the city plan and build a center: Lyle Mathiasen, consultant; Murray Mack, architect; and Bob Strack, construction manager.
The meeting’s focus was on this question: Which recreational facilities should a center house? Representatives of the following organizations gave their opinions: Sartell Baseball Association, Youth Hockey Association and Bernick’s Arena, Youth Basketball Association, Softball Association, Football Association and speakers on behalf of gymnastics, lacrosse and volleyball.
All of the speakers said there is a need for more places to practice and to play, especially indoor spaces during Minnesota’s long winters.
On the combined wish-list were the following items: ideally, a need for up to six basketball courts, walking-running tracks, an indoor field for baseball-softball practice in bad weather, a permanent batting cage, a sheet of ice for practice, scoreboards, portable bleachers, a field or fields with artificial turf, gymnastics equipment, perhaps a sports dome, and more.
Most speakers said that, with the growth of Sartell, recreational programs have grown every year dramatically, so much so that many Sartell children have to go to other cities, such as St. Cloud, Waite Park or the Foley Activities Center, for practice sessions. In addition, current facilities at Sartell schools are showing lots of wear-and-tear, as noted by John Ross, the school district’s activities director.
Currently, there is tough competition for the playing fields and other sports facilities at the schools. Ross said those facilities are scheduled first for school purposes, then for activities of the Sartell-St. Stephen Community Education Program and, last, for the general public.
Several speakers said the recreational amenities should be designed so people of all ages can benefit from them.
Along with athletic facilities, a couple speakers representing recreational needs also said the center should contain rooms for various groups, a concession stand and a library. One speaker suggested income for operations of the center could come from participation fees for various activities in it.
One woman, speaking on behalf of volleyball needs, said the Foley Activities Center offers all kinds of indoor amenities for sports and recreation for all ages. That city, she said, realized how important it is to keep children active together and off of the streets.
Another speaker said activities centers and domes have popped up in cities throughout Minnesota as people see the need for more indoor recreation in the Minnesota climate.
After those speaking on behalf of sports-and-recreation had their turns to speak, the meeting was opened to anyone else in attendance.
Chris O’Brien, director of the community-education program, said there should be a room for arts activities, such as ceramics.
“We hear a lot about sports, but arts and performing areas are also in high demand,” she said.
A center, O’Brien said, should promote community involvement that includes health-and-wellness programs and cultural activities, with a gym, walking track, a small fitness center and adaptable rooms with moveable walls. A senior-citizen area is also needed, she added.
Jan Sorell, long-time member of the Sartell Senior Connection, said there should be a space dedicated to seniors but the space or spaces should be able to be used by people of all ages when the seniors are not using them.
A senior area, she said, should be partly carpeted, partly hard floor, with spaces for storage and a coffee corner. It should be equipped for technology connections and have an easy access. Within easy proximity of the senior area, she added, there should be bathrooms, a catering kitchen, a covered or canopied entrance and drive-up drop-off area. There should be an outdoor patio with picnic tables, Sorell suggested. Those amenities could be used by all who visit the center, she said, adding a center should be conveniently located, on a bus line, with ample parking.
Sorell also spoke on behalf of the city’s historical group. During the city’s centennial celebration in 1907, that group had gathered all kinds of historical artifacts and photos that are now kept in houses throughout Sartell. Those items, Sorell said, should have a common home, a public place where all can see them, such as in a special room or display cases, with storage capacity, in a community center.
Sorell said the center should be built all at once, not in phases, noting buildings planned for “phases” often don’t get done beyond the first phase or two.
Snuffy Putnam, a member of the Sartell American Legion, said he hopes there are meeting rooms for groups like the Legion. The one they use now, he said, is so small it can barely hold 10 members.
One Sartell man said the center plans should stay on schedule with no more delays because residents have waited patiently for years for one to be built. The city should not stint on a center but make it one the city’s people can be proud of, a source of pride, an attraction and an important spur for growth in the city.
A Sartell woman said she understands the needs of youth but she hopes a senior area in the center becomes more that “just one room.”
Former Sartell Mayor Joe Perske spoke on the importance of having a good branch library in the center (see related story).
The April 20 public-input meeting, Degiovanni said, is just one of many more to come. All ideas will be written down, widely discussed and considered during the design process.
Architect Murray Mack cautioned those present who are eager to see a center built that it might take longer than they would like and that construction might no be able to get underway next year.
“There’s a lot of work to do,” he said, adding everyone involved must be sure a center is done right before any building begins.