Blaine looking to create community center task force

A referendum on a Blaine community center could be on the ballot again18 years after voters first turned it down.

The Blaine City Council and a group of residents associated with Blaine youth athletic associations believe the community has changed enough since the failed 1998 referendum to see if residents would now support it.

What would be in this community center, where it would be located and how it would be paid for are all answers that a soon to be developed task force and the council will look to tackle in the next couple of years, leading up to a potential 2016 referendum on the general election ballot.

“Now is the time to get this done so as many kids as possible can benefit from it,” said Angel Leckner, who has lived in Blaine since 1995 and has three daughters ages 6 to 8.

Leckner is in her first year coaching third-grade girls volleyball. She has quickly learned it takes a lot of creativity to find open gyms to practice in that are not too far away for parents to bring their kids. For 10 practices in April, her team went to five different elementary and middle school gymnasiums in the Anoka-Hennepin School District.

The ceilings in some of these gyms are not tall enough for kids a few years older  who hit the ball higher Richard Burke said the volleyball teams really need to start practicing at either Roosevelt Middle School or Blaine High School by the time they get in fifth grade.

Burke is a board member for the Blaine Volleyball Association and has four kids, three of which are in college and a 16-years-old who will have graduated from high school by the time any facility could be built. His kids have “played in every type of sport you could think of in Blaine.”

With a couple dozen people at an April 10 workshop meeting, the Blaine City Council said it would be willing to finance some consultant work in the 2015 budget, but that citizens with the assistance of one city staff member would have to do the legwork of figuring out exactly what the community center could include and how much a consultant fee could be to get more detailed cost projections.

Councilmember Dick Swanson wants to make sure that the group not just focuses on gyms and fitness equipment, but also considers whether this facility could include a new senior center.

Councilmember Dave Clark wants the task force to also consider the needs of the performing arts community and to try to avoid competition with the private sector as much as possible.

The council also made it clear that the public should be well informed that this community center will not turn a profit and will need to be subsidized. Blaine city staff got this message when they contacted community center directors in Andover, Maple Grove, Maplewood, New Brighton and Shoreview.

“If people vote for it and they know it’s not self-sufficient, indirectly they’re saying we’re willing to put tax dollars, a levy increase, to making this thing work and that’s fine,” Swanson said. “Frankly, the community we have today is a lot different than the one that didn’t pass it last time. We’re a lot younger. We’re wealthier. We’re a whole different community.”

Blaine is the second largest city in Anoka County behind Coon Rapids and has the largest tax base, but Mayor Tom Ryan said they are being outdone by other suburbs.

“I think it’s time to look at upgrading what we have in this community,” Ryan said.

Steve Meglen has lived for 16 years in Blaine and has three kids. Two have graduated high school and his youngest is 10 years old. Although he lives in Blaine, he volunteers  with the Blaine-Soderville Athletic Association, which has its main field in East Bethel. He can see a lot of people outside Blaine using this community center. Denise Scholljegerdes lived in Blaine for six years before moving to Ham Lake four years ago. She still has kids involved in youth athletic associations in Blaine, the youngest being 8 years old.

The council asked Public Services Manager Robert Therres to contact the group who were previously involved in a citizen-organized community center task force that was acknowledged but never financially supported by the council. Group members will be appointed at an upcoming council meeting.

Councilmember Kathy Kolb suggested the group turn in a 2015 budget by August so the council can consider this before it approves the city’s preliminary budget in mid-September. She said Blaine residents could vote on a community center referendum during the 2016 general election.

“I say it’s important that we not try to rush through this and that we do this right because I don’t think we want to wait another 15 years to try again,” Clark said.

Eric Hagen is at eric.hagen@ecm-inc.com

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