Community recreation center group gives update, gets input on project

Published 10:12 am Thursday, March 12, 2015

Matt Cano and Tanya Medgaarden, who head the Vision 2020 Community Rec Center committee, give an overview of early goals toward getting a rec center. Eric Johnson/

Matt Cano and Tanya Medgaarden, who head the Vision 2020 Community Rec Center committee, give an overview of early goals toward getting a rec center. Eric Johnson/

A community Vision

Vision 2020 updated the community and answered questions about the planned new community recreation center during a public forum Wednesday.

“It’s not an exclusive group,” Community Recreation Center Committee Co-Chair Matt Cano told audience members. “This is a project where we want to reach out to the community.”

Audience members had several questions about specific plans and programs under the proposed $35 million recreation center, but no one outright challenged the rec center or voiced their dissent with the project.

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“We’re really not hearing objections or concerns from the community,” Vision 2020 Director of Vision Creation Laura Helle said. “We’re hearing requests for more information, clarifications and wanting to confirm that we have been really thorough in our planning so far. That’s a really great place to be.”

The group has made strides since Vision 2020 formed in 2012. Committee members have gathered research, done a feasibility study on the community’s recreation needs and narrowed a list of 24 potential recreation center sites in the area down to two possible downtown locations.

The feasibility study, performed by Anderson, Niebuhr & Associates Inc. of the Twin Cities, found 58 percent of Austin and nearby residents would either definitely, probably or maybe join a new YMCA/rec center, 90 percent of current members would continue at an upgraded facility, and 41 percent of residents who wouldn’t join the Y would at some point use a pay-per-use portion of the rec center.

The $54,000 study used in-depth phone interviews with 21 “influential community members,” a focus group of Hispanic families and parents with young children, and surveys with 100 current Austin YMCA members, 350 Austin residents and 50 Mower County residents near Austin. It was accurate within plus or minus 10 percentage points for YMCA members and plus or minus 5 percentage points for residents, and assumed a Y membership would be $45 monthly for individuals and $65 for families.

Yet the group found renewed interest last fall after Vision 2020 and Austin Public Schools announced a $5.2 million dome and artificial turf project to renovate Wescott Field.

The dome is part of a larger community recreation center project intended to meet community needs. The domed field can be used for soccer, softball and baseball practices along with a few softball and soccer games.

The project will be paid for using $2.5 million from Austin Public School reserves, as well as contributions from the Hormel Foundation and a community campaign.

District officials will use a $3 million internal services fund, in essence a contingency fund, the district built up several years ago to pay for various unexpected needs. The district, a longtime partner with Vision 2020, worked with volunteers last fall to put the project together.

One resident asked if there were any plans to put a similar dome over the tennis courts at Neveln Elementary School, but committee officials weren’t so sure that would be feasible. Cano said the committee looked into it, but the other dome would cost more than $2.4 million to put up.

School board member Don Leathers had doubts that project would come to pass.

“If we passed a $2.5 million project for Neveln, I’d be a one-term school board member,” Leathers told the audience.