by Dennis Dalman
The Sartell Community Center now under construction will have a management team and a form of library service in place after it opens, possibly as early as this September.
At its March 13 meeting, the Sartell City Council voted 3-2 to approve a two-year contract with ProFields, an athletic-field management service based in St. Cloud. ProFields will staff, manage and seek rental contracts for the center. City Administrator and Financial Planner Mary Degiovanni said having a professional experienced service like ProFields manage the center for the first two years will be a good thing, giving the city time to learn how to operate such a center – something the city has never done before.
Before the “hard opening” of the center, the city will pay about $53,000 in planning-management costs. After that, the fee for ProFields’ services will be determined month by month.
It’s estimated operation and management of the center will cost about $297,000 per year, minus the $100,000 or so estimated income from rentals, advertising rights, sales of items and and other fees.
The council also agreed to a five-year contract with the St. Cloud-based Great River Regional Library System for a type of outreach library service known as “Local Material Delivery Return,” dubbed “locker system library service.” What it means is Sartell residents will be able to order library materials that will be delivered by GRRL staff to secure lockers within the community center. The residents, when done with the materials, can return them to the center, and they will be picked up by GRRL staff.
The community-center management contract is the second the city has agreed to with ProFields in the past month. At its Feb. 27 meeting, the council agreed to a joint contract for ProFields to do turf management for athletic fields at Pinecone Central Park, the Champion baseball field and some school-district fields. The other two signatories on the turf contract are the school district and the Pinecone Central Park Association. ProFields had done turf control last year on those fields. The city’s share of the contract is $19,800.
At the March 13 meeting, ProFields owner Brian Deyak spoke to the council and gave some background about himself and his company, which he started about three years ago.
For 26 years, Deyak helped manage the St. Cloud Municipal Athletic Complex, which involved all phases of management, mostly concerning Joe Faber Field and Dick Putz Field. In 2004, with just four days notice, Deyak helped make the complex arrangements required by candidate George W. Bush for a campaign rally on Dick Putz Field during Bush’s successful re-election effort.
In 2015, Deyak resigned to form his own turf-management company, ProFields, which now has about 20 employees. Deyak, a married father of two grown children, is a graduate of Apollo High School and St. Cloud State University.
The city will pay about $71,000 for the start-up costs of the library locker system, according to Degiovanni. In the second year, the city would pay about $22,500, and in subsequent years GRRL would be financially responsible for continuing service, to be negotiated with the city.
Degiovanni said contributions to the city already committed for the center will more than pay for the $71,000 needed for start-up costs.
Council member Ryan Fitzthum said he finds that cost for library service “discomforting.” He said so many residents want “premiere fields” in the city and he does not consider a library locker system “premiere.” Putting so much city money into that library service puts a burden on other organizations in the city, Fitzthum said, which does not seem fair because so many people he’s talked with are absolutely opposed to the funding of library service for Sartell.
Council member David Peterson took issue with Fitzthum’s contention about the city putting so much up-front money into a library service. The city, Peterson said, has spent much more up-front money for the center itself, not even including the locker-library system.
Fitzthum said he understood the GRRL had decided not to allow a branch library in Sartell. Degiovanni said no, that GRRL policy is that a branch library must be at least 15 minutes away from another branch library. That would not disallow a branch library somewhere in Sartell, but the location of the community center, as has been understood from the get-go, is too close to the St. Cloud and Waite Park libraries for it to house a branch library under GRRL rules.
The two council members who voted no to the above proposals are Mike Chisum and David Peterson. Voting for them were Ryan Fitzthum, Pat Lynch and Mayor Sarah Jane Nicoll.
Peterson, in voting no, said he thinks the council should have had more time to study the ProFields proposal, that it was presented too suddenly to the council and that other companies should have been considered, perhaps as part of a bidding process. He also said the council should have had more time to find out how other cities handle management and operation of their community centers.
Peterson also disagreed with the library “locker system,” stating Sartell residents in surveys and in voting twice for the regional half-cent sales-tax referendum made their feelings known – that they wanted a branch library, which was consistently among the top three resident priorities in citywide surveys. Peterson said if the city spends all of its sales-tax money without saving some for a potential branch library some day, a branch library would be impossible, barring property taxes to pay for one.
Council member Mike Chisum gave similar comments. A “locker library” service, he said, would likely preclude the possibility of someday getting a branch library in Sartell. Chisum said while a locker system is the best alternative for library service at the moment, it shouldn’t be a long-term be-all, end-all substitute for a bricks-and-mortar branch library.
Chisum said residents should be surveyed again as to whether they want a branch library. He said while campaigning door-to-door for his city-council seat, the split about the library was about 40-40-20, with 40 percent strongly in favor of a branch library, 40 percent strongly against one and 20 percent not expressing an opinion. Chisum said his conclusion is not scientific, therefore a survey should be conducted. And even if 40 percent of people are against a library, does that mean one should never be built?, he asked.
Degiovanni said it’s difficult to do a survey on a library because every person has his or her own idea of what a “library” should be. She and several council members said the locker-library service will likely spark interest from residents as to whether they are satisfied with it or want some forms of expanded library services.
Mayor Nicoll said there actually will be a library in the center – a 2,500 square-foot space with the locker system, donated books along the walls, space for storybook get-togethers for children and quiet spaces for people to read or work on their iPads or other activities.
“It is a library, no doubt about it,” Nicoll said. “The locker system is just an addition to it (a library).”
Nicoll also said the locker-service will have more open hours than a library branch would.
Council member Pat Lynch also expressed approval for the locker system, which he said will be about one-tenth of the cost of maintaining a branch library.
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.