PILOT EDITORIAL - But which center does community want to build?

Thursday, November 1, 2001

It seems that there are as many ideas for a community center as there are leaders in the community.

The local diversity committee, when they were proposing a center, saw it foremost as a place for all the different ethnic entities in Storm Lake to come together and be served. They envisioned it on the lakefront, at the former Harbor House site, but they couldn't get the cash to buy it.

Mayor Jon Kruse took over the project and appointed a task force. While that group's concept hasn't yet come together, Kruse says that the aquatic center and/or an indoor pool may be major elements. That could come as something of a surprise for a separate city committee planning the aquatic center. The only site it has reportedly looked at is the current city pool site. One site the current community center task force is said to have looked at is hospital land near the Fitness & Health Center off West Milwaukee. But the city has also quietly made an offer to buy the Harbor House site too, although it claims to have nothing more than green space in mind there.

Of course, a different committee had originally proposed its version of a community center, stressing recreation facilities, on land owned by the school district, near the Middle School. At that time, several years ago, the school district had offered the land for free.

So far, we have had three different ideas of what a Storm Lake Community Center should be, and three different preferred locations for it.

In the candidates' forum this week, city council incumbent Denny Vaudt throws out still another idea, and we think it is one the community needs to look at.

Vaudt suggests a "dual-purpose" location, such as a community center located at the Storm Lake High School campus that could be used for the school and for the public.

It wouldn't be easy. Ball diamonds might have to be moved off site, and finding room for parking on site would be a challenge.

But the public already owns the land, much of which is little used. The school sorely needs an auditorium anyway, which could certainly be designed for dual purposes. In such an arrangement, a pool, a gym, an indoor track, meeting room, community exhibit areas and so on could serve young and not-so-young.

It is an idea worth turning over.

So now we have four sites, as far as we know, all still possible - if all bringing certain challenges as well. The hospital land, the school district land near the middle school, the high school campus, and the former Harbor House area. If the city is successful in buying the latter, all four will already be public-owned.

However, we are now on our third attempt to plan a community center -and perhaps have a fourth generation idea to look at in a "dual purpose" project - and still haven't come close to putting something in front of the voters, yet alone building.

In all of those projects, and all of that time, it seems that as groups have planned community centers, they have yet to really ask the community what it wants. Perhaps now would be a good time for a full survey, or at least an informal vote of what people would like to see included, and whether they would be willing to pay memberships to support them.

If we proceed in building an aquatic center with some considerable bond issue debt over a period of time, people may not be so excited about another bond issue for a community center. If we can't combine those projects, we will probably have to form a community center proposal leaning on outside funding and an application to the CAT program, which isn't likely to wait on Storm Lake forever.

We are at a real turning point in Storm Lake - with an aquatic center plan about to go to the city council, a community center plan in the works, a major lake preservation effort gearing up, a city beautification project set to begin, a Cobblestone renovation possible, and a need for a real push in business and community image development campaign needed.

We would also point out that a sudden and rare availability of some downtown sites might present an opportunity for a bigger and better Senior Citizens Center, another important need for this community.

It may be time now to bring all of the groups together to set priorities and an overall plan of action for Storm Lake. The first step, at some point, is to ask the people of Storm Lake what it is they really want.

As we plan for a community center, we don't want to forget to ask the community.