by Dennis Dalman
In the middle of the Aug. 27 Sartell City Council meeting, it was like the sound of a bubble being burst.
A proposal for a Sartell community center generated all kinds of excitement among several council members until they all suddenly realized the proposal might not be legally kosher.
Early on in the long discussion, council member Sarah Jane Nicoll raised a red flag when she reminded the council the city’s attorney had said such an arrangement with a private contractor is very likely a violation of the state’s open-bidding law.
The discussion, however, continued for quite some time.
About 25 supporters of the community-center concept were in the audience.
Douglas Boser, president of Boser Construction Inc. of Sauk Rapids, appeared before the city council to make the proposal. He is working with the Benton Stearns Education Cooperative, which is relocating to Sauk Rapids??? from its building on 2nd Street S. in Sartell. Boser is proposing the City of Sartell acquire that land and building so it can be retrofitted into a Sartell Community Center – even if it can only serve that purpose for, say, 10 or 15 years until such time as the city can build a new one.
Boser presented the council with pages of documentation showing dozens of potential users for such a community building, including service clubs, athletic associations, senior citizens, education groups and all manner of parties and get-togethers.
Boser noted the following points:
1. Sartell residents had already shown their approval of a community-resource facility.
2. The facility would not include a gymnasium or pool.
3. The building and site could easily be re-purposed later for use by, say, the fire or police department or another use.
4. The current building and site has flexibility for expansion.
5. Volunteers and civic groups could help operate the center and do maintenance. The operating costs of the building, annually, is about $27,000.
6. Capital funding by the city has already been established via the half-cent sales tax for up to $1.6 million. That is the estimated total cost if the city would buy the building, adjacent property and do the retrofitting.
7. The 8,256 square-foot building is centrally located in the city on a four-acre site.
Boser said the building could easily be adapted for a community center, with three multi-purpose rooms on one side (with collapsible walls), a narrow lobby, two meeting rooms on the other side, bathrooms and a catering kitchen.
Boser said if the city is interested, he would need to know that by Oct. 13.
Several council members expressed enthusiasm and suggested moving forward. Council member Nicoll, however, said she is against the plan. First, she said the city already has land on which to build without having to buy any. She said she is also concerned about any city partnership with Boser violating the open-bidding law. She also said she worries an agreement would lead to an unfortunate perception the city is showing favoritism, especially without an open-bidding process.
Nicoll assured those in the audience she has heard their concerns. She said the council has been on schedule, according to long-term plans, about a city community center. There is no rush, she said, to hurry into an agreement at this time from a private concern, such as Boser’s.
Several council members said it’s time the city moves forward with some kind of definite plans for a community center. Mayor Joe Perske, who has long fought for a center, said he is tired of “visions and rhetoric,” that it’s time the city takes steps toward getting one in place. Council member Steve Hennes said he has hoped and longed for a community center in Sartell for at least 20 years.
Council members asked Boser to gather more data about all the costs associated with the proposal and to figure out how much a brand-new building would cost if built on city-owned land.
As the discussion wound down, Sartell City Administrator Patti Gartland was asked for advice. She told the council that, as Nicoll had pointed out, the city attorney had said such an agreement with Boser would likely violate the open-bidding law. Gartland’s news was like the needle that burst the bubble. Just then, council member David Peterson made a motion, seconded by Nicoll, to not move further with consideration of the proposal.
The council agreed. But it also requested Boser and city staff to examine the open-bidding law to see if a restructured type of agreement by Boser would be legally acceptable.
The council also seemed to agree the discussion about a community center was a good start, even if the Boser plan proves to be defunct in the future.