by Dennis Dalman
At the open forum portion of the last Sartell City Council meeting, three city residents urged the council not to delay any longer and to move swiftly with plans for a Sartell Community Center.
Erica Frey, a new member of the Sartell Senior Connection, told the council she, her husband and three children moved to Sartell from St. Cloud in 2013, mainly because of its excellent education system and the sense of community fostered by the city.
Frey said she enjoys becoming active in many events in Sartell – social, cultural and recreational. She joined the Senior Connection and recently became the group’s new webmaster for its periodic newsletter. The generosity and selflessness of that group’s members, she said, are very impressive.
The Senior Connection, she added, very much needs a home base within a community center. It’s good, Frey said, the city council recently adopted a step-by-step planning schedule for a community center, but she said she would like the council to put “community center” on every council agenda from here on in, until one gets built.
“What gets talked about gets done,” she said.
Bill Morgan, also a member of the Sartell Senior Connection, along with his wife, Judy, is a retired history professor at St. Cloud State University. He is also an author of several local-history books and a historical guest columnist for the St. Cloud Times.
A community center, he said, should have ample space to show off historical artifacts and documents relating to Sartell history, Morgan told the council, noting such things can quickly disappear if they are not preserved for future generations. Three facets of Sartell history that have already disappeared or are disappearing fast are the city’s “old downtown,” the historic paper mill and the old round barn on the city’s south end. Hundreds of other aspects of the city’s history now exist only in old photographs or in old memories, Morgan noted.
Some people, he said, dub Sartell “a bedroom community,” which implies, wrongly, that the city lacks its own unique history.
Historical exhibits in a community center, Morgan told the council, could change that false perception about Sartell. He then mentioned just some of the historical topics that would make interesting exhibits in a community-center museum. Among them are the Watab Creek that was the dividing boundary between the Sioux and the Ojibwe, the oxcart caravans, the Joseph Sartell sawmill, the Nehemiah Clark farm in LeSauk Township, the Watab Pulp and Paper Co. founded in 1905 and forerunner of the long-time paper mill, and the steel-truss bridge below the dam.
Bill Smoley, a retired lawyer, has been a Sartell resident for 60-plus years.
He told the council he has been hearing about the city’s plans to build a community center for 15 years but nothing gets done except talk. City residents, he said, supported a request for extension of the half-cent sales tax, the basis for building a center and yet one does not get built, he added.
Smoley told the council how he can recall all the activities that took place long ago in Sartell’s now defunct Village Hall: weddings, parties, sports, theatrical plays, dining, reunions, special get-togethers and more.
There is a lack of a space for such community activities now, Smoley implied, suggesting that is why Sartell needs a community center.
His biggest fear, he told the council, is planners might start getting worried about cost considerations and then decide to build a too-small center that would prove inadequate to the residents’ wants and needs.
City-council members did not respond to the three speakers’ suggestions. That is because the council is not allowed, under the rules of order, to comment on issues or questions brought up during open forum sessions.