Task force asks council to support studies for community center

A citizen task force would like the city of Blaine to spend up to $115,000 next year to study a community center that residents would be asked to approve in 2016.

The Blaine City Council will receive a report on this request before it approves a preliminary 2015 city budget by mid-September, according to Bob Therres, public services manager and staff liaison for the Blaine Community Center Task Force.

Todd Olson, chairperson of the Blaine Community Center Task Force. Photo by Eric Hagen

Todd Olson, chairperson of the Blaine Community Center Task Force. Photo by Eric Hagen

The $115,000 budget should be enough for a consultant, two citizen surveys and a needs analysis that would get more in-depth on the costs of different amenities and how existing businesses or other community centers are meeting the demands of Blaine residents for gyms, pools, basketball courts, volleyball courts, senior centers and much more, according to Todd Olson, chairperson of the Blaine Community Center Task Force.

When task force members visited community centers in Andover, Maple Grove and Shoreview they noticed that no community centers are the same – both in how they are paid for and amenities included. People from these three communities had positive stories to share, but regrets as well.

This feedback will be helpful as Blaine continues to explore its own community center, said Derek Hillestad, vice chairperson of the task force.

“Politics is like making sausage. You never end up with the same thing twice.” Olson said.

Olson would like the first survey to broadly ask what citizens would like to see in a community center, then compile the results in a grid before a consultant is brought on board.

Lori Higgins, task force member and president of the MetroNorth Chamber of Commerce, said a key point she heard from a council member of another community where community center referendum had failed was “really define what you feel people need and then go out and survey people on that.” If the task force only asks what people think they need, it could become a “Taj Mahal” that will be rejected by voters in 2016, Higgins said.

Hillestad said the council must think beyond the 4 acres by Aquatore Park and the Mary Ann Young Senior Center and 8 acres by Blaine City Hall, because this city-owned land may not be large enough. He said the centers the committee toured are all looking at expansion and Hillestad feels the council should consider buying up to 20 acres. He added that people will want to see financial projections for this community center, how much certain amenities could cost and most importantly, how it would be paid for.

“I feel we need to have a consultant come in because we’re not putting together and analyzing this information,” said Molly Schmidt, task force member.

The city council asked the task force to come up with a budget recommendation by late August for 2015 consultant costs.

“We’re not in the business of analyzing community centers,” Therres said.

The Blaine Community Center Task Force has been meeting every two weeks since May. Photo by Eric Hagen

The Blaine Community Center Task Force has been meeting every two weeks since May. Photo by Eric Hagen

Only eight people, not including Therres, attended the Aug. 4 task force meeting at Blaine City Hall and one had to leave early before the final budget recommendation came. Hillestad has tracked attendance at each meeting and said usually 15 people attend, but 33 people are on the email notification list to be updated on the task force’s progress.

About the same time the council decides how much of its 2015 budget to dedicate to researching a community center, which failed in a 1998 referendum, the task force hopes to meet with a National Sports Center representative for the perspective of a group that has immense experience in athletic
facilities.

Task force members will also be asked to set up meetings with community stakeholders, including non-sports association groups such as the Mary Ann Young Senior Center, and all three school districts in Blaine,and report back with findings in
October.

Task force membership already includes representatives from most of these different groups, but not all. Spring Lake Park School District’s Community Education Director Colleen Pederson sits on the task force and said District 16 has a shortage of space for its after school activities. The Anoka-Hennepin and Centennial school districts were invited to be on the task force, according to Therres, but the task force has not heard any specific feedback from these two districts.

Jerry Schilling, a representative from the Blaine Senior Advisory Board, heard Therres comment at the first meeting that task force members should “shoot for the Moon, but then tamper down expectations from there.”

Schilling has found this hard to accomplish. He said the 4,600-square-foot Mary Ann Young Senior Center does not enough space to handle all activities. With the senior citizen population increasing as baby boomers age, the need for a larger senior center will become even greater.

“I don’t just have the Moon, I have the Milky Way,” he said. “These are things (the senior center advisory board) thinks we need, but we know we may not get it.”

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

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