Coon Rapids community center project revived

A master plan has been ordered by the Coon Rapids City Council for the proposed second phase of the community center project.

The council Dec. 18 unanimously accepted a proposal from Perkins+Will for professional planning services to develop the master plan for the proposed project on Coon Rapids Boulevard.

Apart from the Coon Rapids Ice Center, which opened in September 2011 and for which Perkins+Wills was the architect, the full-fledged community center project was put on hold by the council in early 2010.

And the components that will be part of the master plan study are considerably different from what was proposed before.

The focus is away from intense athletic and recreational facilities and more toward joint use facilities shared by a variety of community groups, according to City Manager Steve Gatlin.

When council resumed discussions of the proposed community center project at a work session earlier this year, it directed staff to seek partners for the project and not consider amenities that would compete directly with the private sector, Gatlin wrote in a report to the council.

Since June, staff has been meeting with several public agencies and community groups to talk about the feasibility of moving forward with a community facilities project adjacent to the ice center, he wrote.

Indeed, an ad hoc committee has been formed with representatives of these groups – city staff/councilmembers, Anoka-Hennepin School District 11, Coon Rapids Athletic Association, Coon Rapids Senior Center, Anoka-Ramsey Community College and Anoka County/Anoka County Library.

Councilmembers Scott Schulte, Jerry Koch and Bruce Sanders have attended all or some of the meetings.

At a meeting Dec. 13, each group committed to participating in the master plan study and moving ahead with it, according to Gatlin.

Gatlin outlined the preliminary interests of the each group and potential components of the community center.

• Anoka County/Library: relocation and replacement of the Crooked Lake Library to a new site.

• School District 11: relocating current leased space in the Coon Rapids Family Center Mall, including the district Welcome Center, and the relocating Crossroads Alternative High School – it’s currently on the former Coon Rapids City Hall site at Coon Rapids Boulevard and Avocet Street – to a new site with shared classrooms, shared gymnasium and a shared library.

• Anoka-Ramsey Community College – relocation of its career development center to a new site and need for additional classrooms with the planned move to a four-year baccalaureate degree program in the future.

• City of Coon Rapids: considering new senior activity space and more community meeting room space.

• Coon Rapids Athletic Association (CRAA): interested in shared basketball and multi-use athletic facility, possibly shared with the school district and other government agencies.

This past summer CRAA President Ted Schmolke presented a proposal to the council at a work session for a multi-use facility adjacent to the ice center that could be used year-round for various activities and by several groups and would include five basketball courts,  stage, a mezzanine area for spectator viewing, a walking track, meeting rooms and a fitness center

According to Steve Miller, principal, Perkins+Will, he will meet with all the user groups as part of the study, develop alternative site plans and preliminary building plans to incorporate the proposed components.

The master plan will be presented to the council in May 2013, Miller stated in a letter to the city.

As part of the master plan study, Perkins+Will will also provide an overall cost estimate, as well as estimating costs for each component, according to Gatlin

“Staff believes it is appropriate to move forward with the master plan study at this time,” Gatlin said.

“Once the master plan has been completed, more detailed discussions can be held with individual agencies and user groups about specific needs and interests regarding moving forward with a specific project.”

Initially, the cost of the study was to be $64,500, the money coming from the city’s facilities construction fund, with the city paying 50 percent of that and the remaining 50 percent being split equally between the school district, college and the county and its library board, Gatlin said.

But the library requested that its share of the master plan cost be reduced to reflect past planning work that has taken place on a new library in Coon Rapids, some $5,000 and $6,000, and the Perkins+Will fee will be reduced by that amount, he said.

The city will bill the other agencies for their share of the master plan cost, Gatlin said.

The council approved taking the master plan study fee from the facilities construction fund.

Councilmembers were enthusiastic about moving forward with the master plans.

“This is exactly the way we should be going – developing partners,” said Councilmember Paul Johnson.

“This makes sense, not moving ahead with a huge athletic complex.”

According to Schulte, who has attended the ad hoc committee meetings, the partnerships with the other agencies to develop a project that all can use is exciting.

Sanders agreed that partnering with other agencies was the way to go on a community center project, which he said would be “dynamic” and attract other developers to the boulevard.

Councilmember Denise Klint suggested another possible user – the Anoka County WorkForce Center currently at the Anoka County Human Services Center in Blaine where it is crowded and very busy, she said.

Gatlin said he would bring that idea up to the county representative on the ad hoc committee – County Administrator Jerry Soma.

Attracting other potential users would only enhance the project, Sanders said.

Mayor Tim Howe supported moving forward with the master plan, although he said he “was not crazy” about some of the proposed components which “don’t quite meet my vision.”

“But if we don’t take this first step, it will lead to nothing,” Howe said. “We need something on paper.”

Sanders agreed that the potential make-up of the proposed community center was “step away from the original vision,” but “it is not an option to do nothing,” he said.

The original community center project components included an ice arena, aquatics center, gymnasium/fitness facilities, event center/seniors area, commons/indoor playground, park improvements/ice trail and 111th Avenue reconstruction, which if all had been included had a $41.6 million price tag when architectural/engineering fees, land acquisition and site preparation costs were included, according to a December 2009 report presented to the council.

The council also considered a scaled-down second option to include the ice arena, event center/seniors area, commons/indoor playground and 111th Avenue reconstruction which had an estimated price tag of $16,284,547 before settling for just the ice arena in early 2010.

The ice arena budget was some $10.3 million for which the city issued lease revenue bonds, which are part of the annual tax levy – $986,678 in 2013.

The property at Crooked Lake and Coon Rapids boulevards on which the ice center is located was formerly home to a Target store and an adjacent retail center before being acquired by the city for more than $5 million as part of a lawsuit settlement.

Peter Bodley is at [email protected]