THE PILOT EDITORIAL - Community center a practical approach

Thursday, February 28, 2002

At first blush, the plan for a Storm Lake Community/Recreation Center sounds quite realistic. From what we hear so far, it's more a practical approach than earlier visions that included such imaginative elements as a performing arts theater, multi-ethnic showplace, or hockey rink.

This latest plan for a community center sticks with a pretty basic formula - a gym, pool, fitness areas, meeting and community education spaces, perhaps some room for people to rent for private gatherings to help pay the bills.

Nothing for the taxpayers not to like there, nothing that isn't being done in other progressive communities.

If there's a luxury in this vision, it is an indoor-

outdoor pool. That's costly, but it also doesn't make great sense to build a new strictly outdoor aqua

center when northwest Iowa's swimming season is just a couple of months long.

Even with a practical, flexible plan such as this, there remains questions to be answered in the months to come:

* If the hospital land near Highway 7 is the prime site, as city officials tell us, will a pool there have as much attraction as the site by the lovely lakefront? Will it be as accessible? Will costs also reflect the eventual demolition of the current pool? Of course, building a new pool away from the current pool site will also avoid the likely loss of swimming for an entire construction season.

* How will we ensure the safety of young visitors? The current pool area is on the LakeTrail, kids commonly ride their bikes from Lakeside in one direction and as far as the university area in the other without having to go into the street. Do we want children running across or biking along the slim, high-speed area of the highway approach?

* The mayor's statement does not mention a new site for a senior citizen center. If that were included, would the elders use it? And if not, how will we deal with the problems at the current site, including limited space and especially a lack of parking for these people who may be challenged in mobility?

* Who will be responsible to run, staff, maintain, schedule and endow such a facility?

* Have we surveyed the community to ensure that enough fitness memberships, rentals, pool passes and so on are likely to be sold to cover ongoing costs? Will there be a program to include families too poor to afford that access?

These questions represent a portion of the work yet to be done on this proposal. Storm Lake has drawn up plans before for a community center building, and seen those hopes fade. The plan is just a beginning, just the place when the real work begins.

When the project goes before the public, as it will soon, we hope to hear all questions, concerns and ideas addressed, so that a practical, can-do plan can still be customized with Storm Lake's typical imagination and flair.

Briefly - It is a stretch of the imagination to picture our local state senator, Mary Lou Freeman, in the midst of a blood-n-beer bar specializing in "extreme fighting," but so she will be.

In her role as a legislator, she is being asked to form regulation for the brutal bareknuckle sport. It's one of those odd issues that comes up in Des Moines from time to time, but it is to Freeman's credit that she is willing to go see it herself before making a judgement.

We doubt that the machismo of bar brawling is going to appeal much to the refined, sensitive lady who has represented us so well. But we wouldn't want to be the ruffian who spills blood or beer her way. She's small, but make no mistake, she's tough.