County, city study cost options for new ice arena

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 8, 2000

The pricetag for a new multipurpose building at the Mower County Fairgrounds has risen.

Tuesday, February 08, 2000

The pricetag for a new multipurpose building at the Mower County Fairgrounds has risen.

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New estimates range from $5.5 million to $7.8 million, while the original estimate was $4.5 million.

Today, the Mower County Board of Commissioners meets to hear a report from Dave Hillier and Richard P. Cummings, Third and First District county commissioners. Hillier is chair of the county board’s buildings and grounds committee and Cummings is the only other committee member.

"We have three options," Hillier said. "We can go with the plan that’s before us for the $5.5 million building and that would represent a project budget shortfall of $1 million.

"I would like the (Austin) council to consider that."

The other options are to return to the county board’s original plans for a "bare-bones" style multipurpose building, which Hillier said would be a steel ice shed and which could be built for near $4.3 million, or not do the project.

"If we would decide on the third option, we would be letting the city (of Austin) and Mower County to continue to use Riverside Arena and the fairgrounds as they exist now," Hillier said. "I don’t think those of us sitting at this table want that to happen."

On Monday, Hillier and Cummings, plus County Coordinator Craig Oscarson met with an Austin City Council delegation that included Dick Chaffee, at-large member, Mickey Jorgenson, First Ward member, and Gloria Nordin, Third Ward member.

Austin Mayor Bonnie Rietz also was present as well as Dennis Maschka, director of the Austin Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department; Jon W. Erichson, city engineer and director of public works; and Tom Dankert, the city’s finance director.

The $5.5 million multipurpose building could range in size from 59,000 to 65,000 square feet. It would have a metal facade, seating for 1,200 people, two sheets of ice and a protective floor covering for at least one of the sheets of ice.

Two other building options ranging in size from 69,000 square feet (the $6.2 million model) to 79,000 square feet (the $7.8 million model) also were presented by LHB Engineers & Architects of Minneapolis.

Among the reasons given for the jump in the estimated pricetag for a new multipurpose building at the fairgrounds were the architects’ new cost estimates, factoring in inflation, and the negative results of soil tests at the fairgrounds.

The Mower County Board of Commissioners appointed a long-range strategic planning committee to recommend where the new multipurpose building should be located at the fairgrounds. When soil borings were conducted of the recommended site, engineers discovered the potential for major drainage problems and told the county officials at least 2 to 5 feet of fill would be needed beneath the new building and other drainage improvements to the fairgrounds.

Also driving up the costs were an estimated $100,000 for livestock pens to be used in the new building and protective flooring covers over one or both of the sheets of ice.


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Rietz asked Hillier and Cummings whether the county commissioners have discussed raising the county’s share of the project, $1.8 million. Hillier said that because the original vote on the proposed building was split 3-2, that may be impossible. Also, Hillier said there were other fairgrounds improvements issues that must be addressed.

"There’s not a doable option here," Rietz said of the options presented the city officials and staff Monday.

Also, Hillier and Cummings said there are acute bridge repair needs that must be addressed in the county, which is responsible for every bridge in municipalities and township in Mower County.

Thirty bridges are considered "functionally deficient" and don’t quality for any state funding, according to Cummings.

The preliminary plans for a multipurpose building reviewed by the city and county officials and staffers Monday were pared down designs made by the LHB Engineers and Architects.

They did not include a cooking kitchen in the new building with a $5.5 million pricetag. Nor was there a second-story mezzanine area with conference rooms.

A single concessions stand area on the ground floor also could accommodate taking admissions and the lobby area also was reduced.

The building would face the east and have parking on the north and east and possible south directions.

Only the 4-H building, Plager Commercial Building and grandstands area east and north of the existing blacktopped streets running west from the 12th Street SW entrance and north to the Third Avenue SW entrance-exit road would remain in the area as well as the creative arts, poultry, livestock buildings and Crane Pavilion west of the north-south street.

Chaffee said after the meeting: "I’m sure we’re going to be able to do this with the county surplus."

He was referring to an estimated $33 million in undesignated fund balances held by Mower County.

Funding for the building comes mainly from Mower County, $1.8 million at a minimum plus another $500,000 in Mighty Ducks grants from the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission, pushing the county’s share to $2.3 million.

Hormel Foods Corp. has pledged $600,000 to the project and has agreed to match the Austin Youth Hockey Association-Riverside Figure Skating Club up to $250,000 (the two groups have raised $180,000 to date). Hormel Foods’ share could rise to $850,000.

The Hormel Foundation has pledged $350,000 to the project over a three-year period.

The city of Austin’s share currently ranges from a minimum of $100,000 to more than $400,000 if the multipurpose building costs rise to a certain level.

Also, the city no longer will lose the estimated $113,000 per year in deficit spending it now experiences in operating the Riverside Arena.

Austin Independent School District No. 492 would not be a financial "player" in the project except as one of the highest revenue sources because of its hockey programs for boys and girls.

If any plan is approved for a new building, it is unlikely it will be finished for the 2000-2001 ice-skating season.

After the meeting, building committee chair Hillier said the county does not want a "pared down" building, but he admitted, "The other stakeholders probably are at their maximum." That leaves only the county and the city to consider expanding their financial roles.

He said the county will await the city’s response to their request to consider a larger financial role in the project.