All residents of St. Joseph have every reason to be proud of the remarkable progress that has been made in recent month on the public-facilities planning process.
About a year ago, the city was embroiled in a contentious – sometimes even angry – controversy between some unhappy residents and city staff about city plans for a government center.
Most of the controversy was because of miscommunications between the city council and many residents, with residents accusing the council of not heeding their wish-list priorities when, in fact, the council believed it was acting upon the choices residents had expressed at public meetings. All kinds of disagreements were aired once the city had unveiled its government center plan.
Finally, the council agreed it was time to start over, to go back to the drawing board once again. Last year, the council wisely hired a facilitator to help with the visioning and planning process, to ensure that all factions would be on the same page all through the many steps of the process. With the help of the facilitator, Phil Barnes of WSB Associates, Minneapolis, a task force was formed consisting mainly of residents. Barnes conducted the initial public meeting masterfully, drawing people into the process and creating real excitement about what can happen when people drop their suspicions and work together for a community goal. Barnes showed all involved how to bring their brains and talents together; how to do it in a respectful, orderly and transparent fashion; and how to communicate clearly how they arrived at their decisions. Impeccable note-taking at meetings was vital to that outcome.
The excellent results were evident at a public meeting Feb. 23 when those involved in the process gathered, again with Barnes as facilitator. Stakeholders included the facilities task-force members, the council, the park board, the economic-development commission and others. The meeting was expertly emceed by St. Joseph Mayor Rick Schultz.
The various members of this refreshing coalition are recommending the construction of a community center that will include an all-purpose gymnasium, a large community-meeting room and room for some semblance of a library. The center would be possibly Phase I of an ongoing facilities plan, the others being – first – expanded police facilities and then more room for city staff.
At the Feb. 23 meeting, a special guest was Tom Schaffer of U.S. Aquatics, an expert on aquatics facilities for cities. He outlined possibilities for an aquatics facility in St. Joseph that could include a pool, splash pad and other amenities.
Obviously, some of these projects might have to wait, although the extension of the regional sales-tax will surely help bring them more quickly to reality. What is most important and gratifying at this point is how well all of these factions are working together and, yes, on the same page. It won’t be long before we begin seeing, in reality, the excellent results of their hard work. They deserve our thanks and our congratulations for a job well done.