Medical Center CEO: community center plan is 'monumental' for SL

Thursday, February 28, 2002

As plans for a Storm Lake Community/Recreation Center begin to take shape, one key player in a potential project is convinced that the effort can result in "monumental" gains for Storm Lake.

"From both a community and a health standpoint, this is very exciting. Storm Lake has a major opportunity in this project," Jim Sinek, CEO of Buena Vista Regional Medical Center, told the Pilot-Tribune this week.

Making its first public statement on the community center proposal, the medical center seems to stand firmly in the corner of the mayor's volunteer task force planning the development. "The decision on our foundation's involvement would have to be made in part based on the mission of the medical center - and wellness is certainly a part of that mission," Sinek said.

That support is vital for the project, since city officials have focused in on land owned by the medical center as the primary site for the new community center. The land is adjacent to its current Fitness and Health Center near Highway 7 in west Storm Lake.

Sinek said he is pleased with the attention to the medical center's site.

"I think that is an outstanding thing, looking at it from a couple of different perspectives. The community already has the fitness center and the gymnastics building out there, and it seems that it would be beneficial to build onto an already existing complex rather than duplicating facilities elsewhere.

"Also, a lot of communities are paying attention to what they see as their 'gateway' areas now. This seems to be a pretty significant entry to Storm Lake. In a way, a development there could serve as a front door, kind of like the Gateway lighthouse is doing at another entry area," Sinek said. "Also, a study a few years ago indicated that this area could be a potential area for residential growth for the city, and having a community center could raise it up a couple of notches."

The hospital CEO feels strongly that the new community center should incorporate the existing fitness and gymnastics buildings - and their staffs and management.

A likely scenario would be for a separate corporation to be created to operate the community center, Sinek feels. The hospital and other "major players" in the project might be represented on the governing board. The workers at the community center might actually be employed by one of those founding entities to take advantage of existing benefits systems. The hospital could be one option as that employer, Sinek said.

The decision on the land will be up to the medical center's foundation board, which holds the power to control the site, Sinek said.

"They will have to be the ones to decide if this land is available for the initiative. If they say yes, then they will have to decide whether it is provided for a fee, on a lease, or as a donation," he said.

While both the hospital trustees and the foundation board have been kept up to speed on the task force's planning for a community center, no formal discussion of a land donation or sale has yet taken place.

The hospital foundation could also be involved in the public presentations of the project, which are scheduled to begin once architectural drawings have been completed.

at some point, not to far down the orad, know presenting to them what this rec community center is all about, asking would they like to participate.

From a medical standpoint, the project makes good sense, Sinek feels.

"I think the benefits would be monumental. This could be a place where people, from the elderly to families with small children could go any time of year, to get on a walking or jogging track, work out or play ball in the gym, swim in the pool or go to a community meeting or class in a meeting room. With one front door for all of these activities, we would certainly gain some efficiencies.

"From a health standpoint, I think lots of people would be happy to have a place where they could simply feel comfortable walking, jogging or swimming in the winter, where there aren't too many options for working to stay fit and healthy," Sinek said. "I know the basketball league people have no end on demand for places to play and not enough supply to meet it. And the aquatic center would meet the desires of a lot of people who right now are driving to Spencer, Sac City or Denison for a modern swimming facility. When they go, they take dollars out of this community and into another one."

The community/recreation center could also be used to increase sports medicine, physical rehabilitation, sports conditioning, preventative medicine and fitness education efforts, the medical center CEO suggests. "I would also hope that it would bring together a lot of different programs and agencies in Storm Lake, like Community Education, and enable them to work together more easily and perhaps have even more impact."

Yet there is another benefit that no one is speaking of yet, he finds - a social impact.

"Diversity is a key issue here, and this community center does in a way spring forth from the earlier efforts of a diversity community center group. I think this could be the project to bring all of the diverse groups together and let them play basketball together, swim together, do gymnastics together. The more you do that, the more people aren't minorities any more, they are just friends," Sinek said. "That could be a huge, monumental outcome."

In the long months of discussion towards a project, sometimes it has seemed impossible, Sinek said, but now, it is looking more and more realistic. "There are low points and high points in an effort of this size, but we are now at the point where it looks feasible. A lot of hard work from the committee has taken it this far, and it looks now like this community rec center could support itself. The next stage is - 'Can we build it?'

"It's going to take a lot of commitment from a lot of groups including the city and county governments, and perhaps an application to the Vision Iowa fund as well," Sinek said. "But Storm Lake has an opportunity in front of it now to work with, and the knowledge that a lot of other communities, including some smaller than this one, have done it for their citizens."

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