County: New arena to be ready in a year

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 4, 2000

A new multipurpose building will be ready for use for ice skating Oct.

Wednesday, October 04, 2000

A new multipurpose building will be ready for use for ice skating Oct. 1, 2001.

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Bids for the project will be opened Nov. 28 and a contract let as soon as possible to allow construction to begin in January 2001 and completion of the facility a year from now.

Before the final steps in the bidding process are taken, one member of the Mower County Board of Commissioners wants another look.

"I don’t want any changes. I just want to see want we’re going to buy," Ray Tucker, Second District commissioner, said.

David Hillier, Third District commissioner, pledged at Tuesday’s county board meeting that the new facility will be a reality.

Hillier is chairman of the county board’s building committee and has pushed the project from its inception three years ago.

When the project appeared to have lost momentum this summer and after hearing Tucker, the county board chair, say he will not support the project if the county’s financial role increases, some doubted the multipurpose facility would ever become a reality.

Among the doubters are Austin city officials, who questioned Tucker, in particular, during a joint city-county work session on mutual issues two weeks ago. That’s when Tucker said he could not support the project if the bids are more than the estimated $6.5 million cost.

The city has said it will not offer any more financial support to the project and officials have begun to show irritation at the delay. The city plans to close Riverside Arena to ice skating and turn the huge building into a community and recreation center.

Austin Youth Hockey and Riverside Figure Skating Club members, committed to $175,000, are concerned about the future of ice skating, hockey and figure skating in the city and so is the Austin Public Schools’ coed varsity hockey program.

Hormel Foods Corp. and the Hormel Foundation, the two heaviest contributors from the private sector with $950,000 pledged, also are watching. Thus Tuesday’s update, as Hillier called it on the multipurpose project, came at the most opportune time.

"For the last two months, the architects have been busy completing the construction documents for the multipurpose facility," Hillier said, adding, "It involves a lot of very detailed work."

Hillier said he expects them to be finished by week’s end at which time the architects go through another series of "drawing checks" to fine tune the design to match the budget given them by the county board.

"By Oct. 26, the architects should be ready to put the project out for bids," Hillier said.

The architects, LHB Inc. of Minneapolis, have told Hillier that the fall is a good time to take bids because contractors are looking for jobs that can take them through the winter and continue through the 2001 construction season.

Hillier predicted bids could be opened by Nov. 28 and preliminary site work could begin in January.

"It should take them nine months to build and be ready for occupancy and ice skating use Oct. 1, 2001," Hillier said.

The county’s financial role, including use of reserves as well as the $500,000 in Mighty Ducks grants it received, approaches $3.2 million at this point.

When the last architects’ estimates came back at between $5.5 million and $7.8 million, that forced the county to return to the city to ask for an increased financial role from the city.

The city also has said it will not contribute more to the project that will benefit them the most.

There is one sheet of ice in Riverside Arena, a building that annually results in an operating deficit of more than $113,000.