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Council hears from Foundation, YMCA

FAIRMONT– The proposed Fairmont Area Community Center was a topic of discussion among the Fairmont City Council on Monday evening. The council heard from both members of the Fairmont Area Community Center Foundation and YMCA. It also discussed the community center survey results, a letter of intent and funding.

City Administrator Cathy Reynolds said the purpose of the survey, which was put out last month, was to gather information from the community to assist the design team in looking at options for the community center. It was recommended by Tegra, the city’s owner representative, to get the community’s input post-Covid.

The survey was printed in area newspapers, on the city’s website and paper copies were also available at city hall. As for responses, there were 499 resident survey responses, 166 non-resident survey responses and 15 anonymous responses that were not counted.

One question asked what amenities one would pay to use at a community center. Reynolds said people were asked to pick three but some selected all six options. Thirty-nine percent marked “none.” Pool had the highest selected at 46 percent, followed by track at 35 percent and ice at 33 percent.

Another question asked if aquatics are included, what one would pay to use. Forty-six percent selected “would not use” and the other four options, swim laps, aerobics, play area and party rental all received within 22 and 29 percent of total survey responses.

A question asking about ice use had 52 percent mark “would not use.” Open skate received the next most responses with 38 percent, followed by hockey with 28 percent.

Finally, a question asking who would use after school programming had 50 percent mark “not applicable,” 25 percent mark yes and 21 percent mark no.

Reynolds said that the survey results aren’t backing any official decision making at this time but will be used to help guide the design team when the project is at that point.

Fred Krahmer of the Fairmont Area Community Center, Inc. (Foundation) provided a brief presentation to the council. Other members of the foundation include Amy Long, John Edman, John Kasper and Karin Rosen.

“The whole purpose of the Fairmont Area Community Center Foundation is to fulfill two things that were in the original resolution passed by the city council. The first was to raise the private funds to contribute to the cost of the facility,” Krahmer said.

He said they currently have $4.5 million in pledges. The second purpose was to potentially be the operating entity. However, he said as a board it become clear that they wanted an organization with national experience and knowledge when it comes to operating a community center.

“The group that rose to the top was the YMCA,” Krahmer said.

About a month ago, the Fairmont Area Community Center Foundation entered into a consulting agreement with the YMCA. Krahmer said it’s the first time the YMCA will have a physical presence in the city.

Bruce Mielke, CEO of the Albert Lea and Forest City, IA YMCAs was present to go over the organization’s mission, areas of focus and different programs. With him was Dennis Dieser, retired CEO of the Albert Lea YMCA, who has had experience woking with groups on a community center in Fairmont. Chris Stenberg, Director of Alliance Services MN was also present and Brad Ellenbecker, Director of Thriving Ys for YMCA USA was available via phone.

After hearing a presentation from Mielke and Stenberg, which touched on statistics for YMCAs in communities comparable to the size of Fairmont, several council members asked questions.

Council Member Wayne Hasek asked what kind of contract would be in place and how many years they would be here. Stenberg said a work session would be needed to go over details of an operational agreement.

“We can make more commitments as to how long the Y would be here when we know what the facility is. I don’t want to donate money to a facility that isn’t operational and effective and the YMCA isn’t going to agree to come here and operate a facility that’s not going to work,” Krahmer said.

Mayor Deb Foster added that members of the foundation wouldn’t be committing their time and money into a project they didn’t believe would be strongly successful.

Hasek asked about some YMCAs in parts of Iowa that are experiencing financial troubles. Mielke said that it all boils down to the operational agreement.

“We have to be very careful with how we set that up. Having people with the FACC group work with us and put together an operational agreement that cements the Y in the future of Fairmont, that’s what we would be all about,” he said.

Council member Randy Lubenow asked about new YMCAs going up. Stenberg said that there are just under 800 associations leading to about 2,400 total facilities.

“There are some that are successful and some that are not,” he said, citing changes in how people work out in a post-Covid world.

Lubenow asked how YMCAs partner with existing organizations in a community.

“We want to be a partner. We want to be a collaborator. We do not want to compete,” Mielke said.

Dieser added that they’ve had conversations with some of the existing fitness centers in Fairmont on how they can partner together.

“I know there’s a lot of fear with that. There always will be,” Dieser said.

In closing remarks, Dieser said that they’ve found that many people who are opposed to a community center facility become more positive about it when they see it being built.

“It’s hard to be positive and sure it will be a great thing when no one has seen anything,” Dieser said.

The council was presented a letter of intent, a non-binding agreement to define the relationships and work that’s being completed by the FACC, YMCA and the city for construction and operation of a community center.

The council approved a letter of intent for potential Fairmont Area Community Facilities/Financial Operating Evaluation & Future Operations.

Finally, the council had a discussion about funding. Reynolds said that the foundation is looking for guidance from council in regards to the $6 million it was tasked with raising. In 2019, the city council passed a resolution agreeing to commit $14 million from the local option sales tax to the construction of a community center contingent upon the community center committee (now FACC) raising an additional $6 million pledged to the construction of the facility.

The council reviewed several options for the financing. One was that FACC can bring $6 million in cash to the project. Another was that FACC can seek out a bridge loan from a bank based on the pledges it receives. A final option was that the city can issue a bond for the $6 million.

“This is a conversations and initial discussion and definitely not the last time we’re going to talk about financing and fundraising for the facility,” Reynolds said.

Lubenow asked Krahmer if they have $6 million in pledges at this point and Krahmer said no. He said he appreciates Reynolds getting the conversation going as the Foundation just wanted to get a sense of where the council is at.

Council member Britney Kawecki asked Krahmer whether he thought it should be discussed at this point as they’re not sure what kind of facility will be built yet. Krahmer said he thinks it’s important to have the conversation regardless if any decisions are being made at this time.

Dick Strassburg of Tegra was present at Monday’s meeting and commented that time is of the essence as bond rates and inflation are only going up.

Lubenow said he would like to see the second option of FACC seeking out a bridge loan from a bank based on the pledges they receive.

“With a 60/40 split, or something like that, I don’t know if the city should take on the risk of bonding for the additional money,” Lubenow said.

Council Member Michele Miller she would like to see option one, which is that FACC can bring $6 million in cash to the project. Council Member Bruce Peters agreed and said he understands the council needs to take the next step but also said he thinks they’re “putting the cart ahead of the horse” until they know what they’re building and at what cost.

Krahmer thanked the council for its time and discussion and said, “we have one thing in common no matter what your position is and that is that this has to be fiscally responsible and good for the community and that is what we’re all sharing and I promise we’ll work in that direction.”

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