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Coon Rapids approves study for city community center

  • Article by: MARIA ELENA BACA
  • Star Tribune
  • December 26, 2012 - 11:18 AM

The city of Coon Rapids is another step closer to getting a community center.

Last week the City Council voted to approve funding for a redesign of the master plan, created in 2010, for a community center with help from Anoka County, the Anoka-Hennepin School District and Anoka-Ramsey Community College.

The move comes two years after the city opted not to build a large community-center project, but went ahead with a phased plan that started with construction of the new Coon Rapids Ice Arena. That facility was completed in September 2011.

A scaled-back second phase could include space for a new county library, an indoor gym and workout space for youth sports and other uses, a senior center, classrooms and school- and college-related offices and services.

The school district and the college are fronting $10,750 of the planning costs apiece, and the county is providing a discounted amount because part of its consulting needs already have been met. In all, the study will cost $64,000, minus the county's discount.

In exchange, the city's architects will meet with each partner after the New Year to determine their needs and how to make their disparate facilities mesh together within the city-owned parcel on Coon Rapids Boulevard, said Ted Schmolke, Coon Rapids Athletic Association president. He has said his organization would like to lease athletic space in a city-owned center.

"They need that master plan redo from the original city center," Schmolke said. "Then they can go to bids to decide whether to move forward."

The city and its partners also could decide whether to continue with one complete project or do the project in phases.

In 2010, the City Council scrapped plans for a $46.5 million proposal that included an ice arena, fitness center, pool and other amenities, all in one project. The plan drew vociferous opposition from people in Coon Rapids, who worried about increased taxes to pay for the project, and council members who were reluctant to raise taxes during a recession. Others argued that facilities such as swimming pools and fitness centers already were being provided in the city by the private sector, or that the city should not be on the hook for the entire project.

The current incarnation came about in January, when Schmolke approached the city, concerned that his young athletes lack proper space to practice and compete.

He said he is planning to launch an informational campaign to get more residents on board with the plan.

"There's going to be opposition from the community," he said. "But I personally ask anybody in this community, if they don't understand what this building is, and who the partners are, to call me or someone in the city. ... We're looking at convincing the public that this is really cool and great."

Now that the project is moving forward, he said, he hopes to expedite securing private funding of at least $2 million. Some of that amount already has been offered, and the vote will help make it more certain.

"What happened [last week] is a big step, and now people will start to commit," he said. "This is such a new, exciting thing, people are going to start calling us."

Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409

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