When they head to the polls in March, voters in Jordan will have two referendum questions to consider rather than just one.
Last month, the school board unanimously approved adding a second question to the ballot. That question asks for $5.245 million to build a community center with two gyms, an elevated walking track and additional multipurpose spaces.
The community center would be adjacent to the completely remodeled middle school, a $29.345 million project to be built if question one passes. The renovation would re-use the existing middle school’s shell, modernizing and reconfiguring the floor plan and adding a second gym.
Passing question one will increase annual property taxes by $242 for the owner of a $200,000 house in Jordan. The second question, which can only pass if voters approve the first, will cost the same homeowner $55 a year.
At a November joint meeting with the school board, City Council members said they weren’t interested in funding the community center’s construction and recommended the board add a second question, said Ed Shukle, Jordan’s city administrator.
The question now is whether the city will pay for the center’s ongoing maintenance and staffing, he said.
“Overall, these things are nice to have, and I think that in the long run they make sense,” said Shukle. “But you have to look at it in terms of, is it worth the city’s investment on an ongoing maintenance [basis]?”
The center would cost an estimated $50,000 to $60,000 annually to run, Shukle said.
Among council members, opinions vary as to whether a community center is necessary, given Jordan’s size, and whether the city should pay for it.
“There are mixed opinions. There are some City Council members that are supportive of it, and there are some that are very much against it,” said Matt Helgerson, superintendent of the Jordan School District. “I think it’s going to be very close.”
To involve both groups in the project, the council and school board will have to “tweak and revise” their joint powers agreement. After revision, it will come back to the board and council for approval, likely in February, Helgerson said.
Even if the city won’t pay for the center’s maintenance, the district would still build it if voters approve question two, Helgerson said. “I think it can be done [without their help], but obviously I would like to see a partnership with the city,” Helgerson said.
The school district and city started seriously discussing the idea of building a community space last year, Helgerson said.
With 5,700 people, Jordan’s population has doubled over the last 10 to 15 years, Helgerson said.
Currently, there is no community center or large-scale fitness facility in town, though there are two small, 24-hour gyms, Shukle said.
About 25 communities in Minnesota, including Delano and St. Michael-Albertville, have community centers connected to schools, he said.
Because construction on both structures would happen simultaneously, “there’s an economies of scale that you can reach by having a joint project that you would not reach” if you built either one alone, Shukle said.
While the center’s exact amenities haven’t been decided, the idea is to “make it so multipurpose you can use it for anything,” Helgerson said.
The gyms would have rubberized floors, and possibly a climbing wall and game area for smaller kids, he said. Senior citizens would have a safe place to walk year-round, too.
One thing that won’t be included is an indoor pool, which some community members wanted. Operating a six-lane indoor pool in Minnesota costs about $350,000 a year, which is just too expensive for a small city like Jordan, Helgerson said.
Amenity for families
Ben Kalow, a member of the “Yes for Jordan” group which supports both referendum questions, said it makes sense for the city and the school district to work together on the project. “It’s an opportunity for them to come together and do something that neither of them could do on their own.”
And with a total of four gyms at the middle school, Jordan could hold indoor tournaments, bringing in revenue, Kalow said.
Helgerson said that with neighboring Shakopee adding 4,000 jobs in the coming years, some of those people may consider building or buying a home in Jordan. A community center would make the city more attractive to families, he said.
Middle school teacher Ansley Peters said she supports the community center because “it is an important piece in the health of our community.”
Helgerson said he hopes taxpayers will see the value of both referendum questions. He noted that by using the existing middle school structure, the project will cost $12 million less than if they started from scratch.
“I feel that we’ve put a product out there that’s responsible to the taxpayer and also builds something that is needed,” he said.