Since when did a Sartell “community center” morph into a “multi-sports complex?”
That’s what one might conclude after listening to all the suggestions at an April 20 public-input meeting at Sartell City Hall. We heard about basketball courts, artificial-turf fields for football and soccer, and a dozen other sports-related amenities.
In all fairness, that particular meeting was called to elicit recreational wants or needs that people might desire in a community center. It’s good all of those people spoke up and gave their ideas. It was exhilarating to get such an overview that showed such an intense excitement about sports and other physical activities in Sartell.
Those groups were invited by city staff to give their ideas.
However, it often happens that – like the squeaky wheel getting the grease – sports facilities seem to get the most attention in so many city projects here and elsewhere. The new high schools in some cities, for example, are beginning to resemble sprawling sports complexes more than they do places of learning.
At the April 20 meeting, several people spoke about the need for a community center to have room for a library, a senior-center area, and places for arts and theater performances. Interestingly, one woman spoke of the potential – “perhaps” – for a room for arts activities; another spoke of a large room for a senior-citizen gathering place. While others were talking about giant spaces required for gyms and courts and fields, these humble, meek-and-mild speakers seemed to be begging for a mere “room.” Those functions (arts, senior center, library, historical society) deserve far more than a just a “room” for each function. They should comprise the lion’s share of the center because those activities were mentioned in survey after survey by Sartell residents as their top choices and the very reason residents voted for the half-cent sales tax, including its 25-year extension last November.
The athletic needs mentioned at the meeting were indeed worthy ones. Wouldn’t it be nice if, in fact, Sartell or private concerns could build a giant multi-sports complex? But a sports complex is not why voters agreed to a sales tax. The possibility of a pool or aquatics activities were mentioned in survey responses and even recreational amenities such as a gym and walking track. But such wants certainly do not add up to a sports complex.
Some of the ideas presented April 20 definitely have merit. A gym, for example, is a good idea, especially one with a theater stage at one end of it so city pageants and other programs could take place there. There should also be places in the center for reasonable recreational options for all ages – but not a sprawling series of courts and fields.
When it comes time for people to speak up for non-sports amenities in a community center, we hope people speak up loudly and clearly for the very amenities they said they wanted in those many surveys.
Sartell now has the Bernick’s Arena, which is an excellent place for hockey and other events. It has outdoor ice rinks. It has athletic fields at all the schools. It has a series of many fields at the new and beautiful Pinecone Central Park. Could there be more athletic facilities and improved ones? Absolutely.
However, now is the time for a community center, which should include, first and foremost, a library, a senior center, arts and performance spaces, an ample area for historical artifacts, a kitchen and dining room, plenty of meeting rooms and a gymnasium – the very things people wanted in the surveys, the very things people still want – and still need.