Voters in Cottage Grove may soon get to decide whether to build a community center and operate it in partnership with the YMCA of Greater St. Paul.

A 23-member task force began studying the idea in early 2009 and presented its final report recommending the plan to the Cottage Grove City Council last month. Along with approving the report, the council authorized formalizing a partnership with the Y and will set up a committee to plan for a referendum.

John McCool, senior planner for the city, said the task force spent the past two years looking at four main questions: Whether there's a need for a community center, what such a center should include, where it should be located and how it should be operated. It studied how similar centers operated in other communities.

The panel, drawing on both an independent marketing study and one done by the YMCA, found a need for the community center, along with strong community support for it.

The panel also concluded the city and the Y should build the center together, and that the nonprofit agency should operate it.

Amenities would include an aquatics facility, teen and senior center, a fitness center/weight room, an indoor playground, a gymnasium, a multifunction space for meetings or classes, and an outdoor water play area known as a zero-depth "splash pad." The task force rejected plans for a theater and banquet facility, noting that the city has sufficient alternatives to fill those needs.

The panel studied 11 potential sites, McCool told the council, including many that had been considered for the new Public Safety/City Hall Building for which plans are also progressing. The final report recommended putting the community center in Ravine Regional Park near where the new Public Safety/City Hall Building is expected to be located at Keats Avenue and 85th Street.

The task force liked that site for many of the same reasons it was chosen for the new Public Safety/City Hall Building: ample room (the panel was looking for at least 10 acres), low acquisition costs, the ability to share parking and open spaces with other public buildings and access to the park and trail system. Also, "that area is closer to the future center point of population growth," McCool said.

Planners for the new Public Safety/City Hall Building have visualized the site as a campus of public buildings near the Washington County South Service Center. Along with the community center, it eventually could include a library.

Mayor Myron Bailey has said the decision on the Public Safety/City Hall Building will not have to go before voters, since the city will not have to raise new revenues to pay for it and affect property taxes. Voters, however, would have to chip in new money for a community center, which is why the City Council, in approving the task force report, also set up plans for a referendum.

The task force estimates the community center, at 50,000 to 75,000 square feet in size, would cost between $10 million and $15 million.

"From a personal standpoint, growing up in this community and now finally seeing us get to the point where we're going to make some decisions about a community center in combination with the Y, to me has been a dream," Bailey said before the council's unanimous vote approving the plans. "And it's been a long time coming."

The YMCA's marketing study found overwhelming support for a community center: 85 percent of respondents said they would like a community center run by the Y, and 70 percent said they backed using city funds to build it.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Y survey showed that the higher the potential property tax pinch, the lower the support. Twenty-three percent of respondents said they opposed any property tax increase to support the community center; 32 percent said they would be willing to pay $20 to $29 a year; 24 percent said they would pay $30 to $39 a year; and 19 percent said they would pay $40 or more.

Jim Anderson • 651-735-0999 Twitter: @StribJAnderson

Join us on Facebook: strib.washco