News

Community center project on hold pending city’s participation

Jane Howard

The county board decided on July 26 that it had hit the wall on the community center project since it did not have the financial support of the City of Grand Marais.

Tom Wachholz, president of ORB, the consulting firm acting as owner’s rep on the project, recommended that the county suspend the project for the time being after it finishes studying costs related to where the proposed facility should be located.

In 2005, the city entered an agreement with Burbach Aquatics Inc. in which it promised to use Burbach for any “repair, renovation or replacement of the municipal swimming pool located in the City of Grand Marais….” The contract included a statement that it would be in effect until either the project was completed or until it had been suspended for five years.

While the city never pursued that project, Burbach is holding the city to its agreement, saying that participation in a community center project that includes a pool would breach its contract.

Attorneys might argue over the city’s obligation to Burbach at this point, but the county board cannot make the city set aside its concerns and participate in the new community center project.

The scope of the project must change if the city does not participate, Commissioner Jan Hall said. The county cannot fight the city’s battles, she said.

They could drop the pool from the project, Commissioner Fritz Sobanja said.

“I’m definitely not in favor of building a community center without a pool,” said Commissioner Sue Hakes. The 1 percent sales and use tax funding the new center is a chance to build something that could not be built otherwise, she said, adding, “That pool downtown is going to go away.” She said she didn’t want to “be held hostage” by allowing a company to stop the process. “This is a showstopper and we need to figure this out,” she said, adding that she was not ready to “throw in the towel.”

County Auditor Treasurer Braidy Powers, who had contacted Burbach, said Burbach indicated it would drop its claim on the project for a sum of over $400,000.

Hakes suggested that if the city was willing to contribute $150,000 a year for ongoing maintenance and operation of the pool, which is what it spends each year to keep the current pool open, the county could pick up the city’s share for a year so it could pay Burbach off and be released from the contract.

“This is ridiculous,” said Commissioner Jan Hall. “We need to stop this dream and get back to reality.” She proposed reconsidering the entire project, saying she didn’t need to leave behind “some sort of legacy” as a commissioner. She told the board they need to listen to the people, many of whom have been protesting the scope of the community center project.

Commissioner Hakes said she envisioned scaling back the facility but believed they should continue to include a pool in the plans. She advocated doing what they needed to do to get the city on board for the next 30 years.

Hakes made a motion, seconded by Bruce Martinson, that the county work with ORB to decide on a site for the new community center but then suspend the project until issues with the city could be resolved. The motion passed unanimously.

“The county should urge the city to resolve the issue with Burbach,” Attorney Scannell said.

The board decided to try to set up a work session to discuss the issue with the city and tentatively set it up for 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, August 23. Board Chair Jim Johnson agreed to write a letter inviting the city council to that work session.

Later in the meeting, the board approved a motion to conduct soil borings around the west end of the Cook County Schools complex, assuming the school would give its permission for this, in order to investigate the cost of locating the community center where the west wing of the school now sits.

On July 19, the ISD 166 school board passed a motion stating that it was neutral regarding whether to even build a new community center but was not opposed to the county board considering the west wing of the school as a potential site.


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