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Rec center proposal: $20 million

FAIRMONT — A year has passed since the proponents of a Fairmont community center held a “town hall” meeting to offer information and gather feedback on the proposed facility to be located west of the Mayo Clinic Health Care campus.

While the advocates have been quiet, they have not been idle, and they offered an update on their work during a Fairmont City Council work session Monday.

Presenting new information to the council about a smaller, less-expensive facility with strong programming from the YMCA were Brandon Edmundson and Laura Olsen, co-chairs of the committee; Mike Edman, committee member; and Dennis Dieser, executive director of the Albert Lea Family Y.

Edman told of the numerous stakeholder meetings between representatives from the YMCA and community organizations and the redesign of the proposed community center without the convention space.

“This building that you see is the final work product of the committee, and I’m excited to tell you that the building cost has been reduced to $19.9 million,” he said. “Obviously, the costs go up with projects that are delayed, but this is the to-date, all-in number. This is construction, carpet, furniture. This is, in our opinion, the template that we should move forward with.”

Over the last few years, the cost of the building has gone down from what the committee calls the “Santa Claus” model at $41 million to about $25 million a year ago to the current $19.9 million.

“We feel like we’ve done as good a job as we can to bring forward to you a facility with what we believe is a reasonable budget,” Edmundson said. “I think that’s what we were tasked to do, and I think that’s where we are today.”

He requested that the council vote on the city’s financially supporting the community center at its next meeting on Dec. 9.

“We can start forward now with (private) fundraising, but we need to know what the city’s wiling to do,” he said. “We’re ready to start raising money, but we can’t do that until the city says what they are in for.”

“No one is asking for a check,” Edman said. “What we’re asking for is a public commitment.”

In September 2018, the council voted to allocate the income from the half-cent local option sales tax but did not approve a commitment for any additional funds. With the current design, the city would need to increase the property tax levy by 6.25 percent in addition to the sales tax money to pay off about $14 million in bonds requested for construction. Private fundraising would be required to net the additional $5 million required.

“You’ve listened very carefully to what people had to say, and I greatly appreciate that,” said Mayor Debbie Foster. “For me, the game changer was when the YMCA agreed to come in. I think our community needs a community center, and I think our community needs a YMCA. There’s a whole clientele out there whose needs are not being addressed.”

Dieser spoke passionately about the YMCA and the programming it offers.

A native of Rochester, Dieser was raised by two parents who worked nights, and the YMCA “was my lifesaver.” He worked at the Y from seventh grade through college, where he earned a degree in business management, marketing and recreation with a minor in accounting. His first job was at the Albert Lea Y were he intended to stay two years. He will mark 36 years at the facility on Jan. 1.

“It’s not a job for me. It’s who I am,” he said.

Dieser spoke at length about the many areas the Albert Lea Family Y serves the community. Programming includes child care, swimming lessons, fitness classes, aerobics, spin classes, racquetball in a 50,000-square foot building that includes a full gymnasium and a five-lane swimming pool.

With an annual budget of $760,000, the Albert Lea Y is the smallest in the Midwest. The building, built in 1972, is owned by the community and is debt free.

“It’s not just a gym and swim,” Dieser said. “The mission of the YMCA is to put Christian principles into practice through programs that build a healthy spirit, mind and body for all, regardless of ability to pay, regardless of need, regardless of ability. That’s what we are about.

“Everything we do has a purpose. Character development is a huge key in what we do: caring, respect, honest, responsibility, empathy. There’s always challenges, but there’s always solutions.”

He assured the council that the YMCA would not be anticipating handouts from the city every year to meet its expenses, but it would need help and support to get everything started.

“The only way it’s going to work in Fairmont is if that is what Fairmont wants,” Dieser said. “If Fairmont believes they can make their community a better place by having a facility and programs that can meet the needs of the community, then it will be a success, but it’s got to come from you.”

“If you’re hearing citizens say we’re going to be on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars in deficit, that’s simply not how YMCAs are run,” Edmundson said. “That’s a huge misconception.”

Council members Bruce Peters and Wayne Hasek said the vast majority of their constituents have spoken out strongly against a community center, but Tom Hawkins downplayed the negative feedback.

“It’s been totally the opposite for me,” Hawkins said. “When I ran for City Council, the No. 1 reason was to help get this across. In small towns, which is common, people for things are less vocal than people against things.”

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