There certainly seems to be a resurgence of excitement about Sartell realizing its dream of a city community center.
A proposal unveiled at the last city council meeting might end up going nowhere. That proposal would involve the city using the Benton-Stearns Education building as a center. Not a “dream” center, to be sure, but a functional building that could be used for multiple uses and by dozens of groups and organizations. At this point, that proposal does not sound very promising because it might violate the open-bidding law, according to the city attorney.
Still, the idea of creating a center – even one in a retrofitted building – has revived a keen interest among residents who are on record as wanting a community-services building for many years. When voters in Sartell approved the half-cent sales tax years ago, a community center was at or near the very top of people’s wish lists, including the possibility of a branch library within such a center. Subsequent meetings and surveys underlined that wish for a community center.
As Sartell Mayor Joe Perske has constantly reminded us, the residents have spoken – several times. They want a community center. They want half-cent sales-tax revenue to pay for a center.
The conversation at the Aug. 27 city council meeting was a good one because, if nothing else, it was an exercise in particularities, of seeing a community center as being a reality rather than an abstraction. That conversation was a first step in exploring the concept in some detail. There are many questions to be answered? Should the city build a center from scratch on land the city already owns, such as at Pinecone Regional Park? That would seem to be the ideal solution. What should the center contain? A pool? A gymnasium? If a center is built, how much room for expansion should be planned? Should the city build a basic “budget” center or a more impressive structure?
There have been suggestions raised by some council members of setting a public hearing or doing another survey to determine what exactly do residents want in regard to a center? That’s a good idea. There may be new wishes and even some new creative concepts that developed during the years that have elapsed since the last public input was taken. Another survey and/or public-input meeting would probably also give a kick-start to a community center, pushing it closer to realization.
As Perske said at the last council meeting, “I am tired of visions and rhetoric.” And he is correct. Even though the economy continues to sag, it’s time to move forward from “vision” to “reality.” That sales-tax money has been used for quite a few worthy projects, including developments in Pinecone Central Park. Now it’s time to use the money for what the residents wanted to begin with – a community center.