by Dennis Dalman
From the very beginning of the Sept. 14 Sartell City Council meeting, which lasted nearly three hours, differences of opinion about a planned community center were apparent, mainly the disagreements about a “central” vs. a “southern” site location. (See related stories.)
After all sorts of opinions, questions and viewpoints were offered, the three council members who voted almost two months ago for the south site defended their decisions.
“Let’s put conspiracy theories to rest once and for all in this community,” said council member Steve Hennes. “Let’s build a community center that will be one of the best in Minnesota . . . We had a vote; we’re moving forward.”
Hennes said the Great River Regional Library system’s requirements, as noted in a Sept. 3 memo to Sartell city staff, are not something the city had contemplated, such as a 12,500-square-foot library and hundreds of thousands of dollars for a start-up collection of library materials.
“If we do something on our own (without GRRL involvement), that’s what we’ll have to do,” Hennes said.
Council member Pat Lynch said he does not see the possibility of a library in Sartell as a separate, stand-alone structure from the community center. Some people, he said, have “poisoned the well” about putting a library in the community center. Some, he said, have developed a “scorched earth” policy about a center just because they were on the losing end of what the council decided (the south site).
“Time will tell,” Lynch said. “I’m proud to call that (south-site center) my legacy, and I think the community will rally ‘round it when it’s built.”
Mayor Sarah Jane Nicoll said she agreed with Lynch.
“I’m proud of it,” she said, adding that in her opinion, the location has wonderful outdoor space, it has a park-like atmosphere with possibility of all-season outdoor activities, such as skating outdoors in winter, with lots of patio space and green space in the warmer seasons.
Priorities will be crucial in planning the spaces and functions in the community center, Nicoll added. A 12,500-square-foot library, for example, is just not affordable.
“If we have to do without GRRL (involvement), that’s just the way it’ll have to be,” she said.
Council member David Peterson, who voted against the south site, said he has many questions about a library. He said the council should not become rigid, nor should the GRRL, and they should work together for a branch library.
The following are some of Peterson’s questions he said he wants to find answers to in the near future:
- If there is not room in the community center for a library, then where can one be placed?
- What if GRRL says “no” to the city’s library options?
- What will the city have to pay for the library’s operational expenses?
- What about the library’s open hours? If it stays open past 4:30 p.m., wouldn’t that require at least two extra full-time employees and maybe three?
Council member Amy Braig-Lindstrom, who also voted against the south site, did not weigh in at the Aug. 14 meeting about the community center and/or the library.
Public forum input
Before the meeting, during the Public-Forum session, five Sartell residents addressed the council about the center. This session allows any citizen to share concerns with the council within a three-minute time limit.
John Ellis, a teacher, said he hasn’t yet talked with one person who is in favor of the south site, including his students – sixth- and eighth-graders. As for the Villcheck site, Ellis said if soil fill is required there, it would be money well spent.
“It (south site) might be the right place, but I’m asking you to re-evaluate it again . . . . Let’s make sure it’s the right spot.”
Brandon Testa, the owner of House of Pizza and Pacific Wok in Pine Cone Marketplace,” said he is strongly in favor of the south site.
“It’s that not the right location, fine,” Testa said, adding it will be a good destination for people no matter where it is and it will bring revenue to the city.
“Thanks,” he told the council, “and let’s get this thing built.”
Joe Perske, former Sartell mayor, reiterated how he thinks the community center should definitely be built in a central location. As a long-time advocate of a central center, Perske said he frequently hears positive comments from people in his church and at the schools. He said the American Legion members do not like a south site, nor do many senior citizens, and the GRRL does not favor the site (a memo states the south site is unacceptable to GRRL).
Perske said Sartell is the largest Minnesota city without a library.
“It (south site) doesn’t make sense,” he said, “and people are upset.”
Jason Mathiasen, owner of Great River Bowl, spoke to the council about the success this past summer of the Pinecone Central Park facilities, which were beyond anyone’s expectations. Mathiasen said he’d like to weigh in on the community-center issue.
He said he hears from customers and his wife just the opposite of what those opposed to the south site are saying.
“Most people I talk do don’t care where it gets built,” he said. “Just so that it gets built.”
Henry Smorynski, who, like Perske, has been a long-time opponent of the south site, said the plan for a library has become an “after-thought” in the community-center planning process with most emphasis now placed on “sports teams, gyms, pickle courts.”
The city’s slogan, “Alive and Growing,” he said should mean Sartell values ideas, conversations, socialization, reading, learning and an increase in human intolerance of ignorance. He urged the council not to make mockery of the city’s slogan through poor planning and inadequate research.
If nothing else, Smorynski said, the library should be built somewhere centrally in Sartell and be paid for by eliminating a gym or walking trail in the community center on the south site.