Faced with mounting infrastructure concerns, the city of Winona thought the East End Recreation Center would be the answer to its problems.

City officials earlier this year made a plan to potentially demolish the recreation center and build a large-scale community complex on the site, featuring community space, recreation space, and space for the city's police and fire department.

An outsized outcry from residents put an end to that plan after the Winona City Council recently voted 6-0 to abandon the idea.

For many people, the East End center is "one of the most important resources in town, and everybody knows that," said Katie Mueller-Freitag of the Winona chapter of Community Not Cages, a progressive collective aimed at changing public safety to focus less on jail time and punitive measures and more on human services and outreach.

The group helped spearhead a campaign against the planned complex as members were concerned the community center's space would have shrunk to make more room for police resources.

A public hearing in July drew more than 200 people and 69 speakers, almost all of whom spoke against putting police and firefighters at the center.

Speakers touted the farmers market and the youth and family programs at the center, which they didn't want affected by police or firefighter equipment and training.

"It felt so amazing that the community came together and that many people showed up to tell their representatives how much the rec center meant to them," Mueller-Freitag said.

Winona Mayor Scott Sherman said it wasn't the city's plan to shortchange the community center. Rather, the city had hoped to address ongoing issues for several city-related programs with the complex.

The East End Recreation Center building is decades old and faces maintenance issues with its roof and heating and cooling systems, among other infrastructure. At the same time, Winona's senior center, known as the Friendship Center, has long outgrown its space.

Winona's Police Department shares space with Winona County, but the county's new $28 million jail is set to finish construction next year, which shifts some of the county's resources out of its current location. Sherman said city and county officials have discussed continuing to share resources, but it appears the city's costs will grow larger than what city officials hope to spend.

The city's central fire station building is out of compliance with current fire codes and may not be large enough to house equipment and vehicles in the future. In addition, the station doesn't have a good decontamination process for firefighters coming back from a fire.

"There's no way to really mitigate or really separate areas in terms of being able to keep those carcinogens away from the sleeping quarters for the firefighters," Sherman said.

A study released in January outlined eight potential locations for a public safety building housing police and firefighters. Of those locations, the East End Recreation Center site appeared to be the best option, particularly concerning Fire Department response times. Combining four departments and programs into a large-scale complex would have allowed the city to apply for state bonding to pay for most of the $20 million construction.

Winona staff is exploring other options for a public safety building. The city bought land near the central fire station in recent years.

Yet Sherman fears separating the projects may make it more difficult to fund for the city of 26,000 residents.

"I would love to see all four done — whether they're going to happen or not in the near future," he said.