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'Shoot for the stars'

If the city of West Fargo is going to build a new community center, they might as well go big.

At least that seems to be the conclusion of city officials after a joint meeting of the City Commission, School Board, and Park Board last Wednesday at the public works building in northern West Fargo.

"West Fargo needs something to draw people in," school board member Dave Olson said. "We should build something our citizens can be proud of, and that will set us apart from Fargo; let's shoot for the stars."

Several questions remain, such as how much the facility will cost or how it will be paid for, but the interest is there.

The notion of a community center actually stemmed from something a bit less all-encompassing: the need for a new pool. West Fargo Park's Barb Erbstoesser said, however, that officials needed to broaden that notion, or risk a lack of community support.

"We should consider a community center, and not just focus on aquatics," Erbstoesser said, although she admitted a new pool would be keystone to the facility.

The need is there

West Fargo parks and the school district each have vested interests in a new community pool.

For the parks, it's simply a long overdue update to their current facility, Veterans Memorial Pool, which has seen its better days. The aging outdoor complex has been in need of an overhaul for some time, officials said, but they haven't gotten around to doing anything about it.

"We've never had a timeline to replace the facility, but it keeps getting bumped back in favor of other projects," Erbstoesser said.

West Fargo Public Schools' needs stem from its own aging pool at LE Berger Elementary School, as well as the increasing growth of the district.

The Berger pool already is at maximum capacity with just one varsity swimming team using it, Superintendent David Flowers said, and would be "inadequate for two high school programs."

Sometime after the new Sheyenne High School opens, there likely will be a need for a separate athletic team - one at West Fargo and one at Sheyenne. With a varsity team already using Berger pool to the fullest extent, the likelihood of two full varsity squads practicing and competing without conflicts is slim.

"The need is there," Flowers said.

Nuts and bolts

There are a lot of questions that need to be addressed before officials can even think about breaking ground on a new community center.

For starters, and maybe the biggest hurdle, is money.

At the moment, if a civic center were to be built in lieu of just a pool, costs would be at least $8 million, officials said. While final numbers won't be known until estimates are taken, there is a limit to what is acceptable.

"I've been telling people that, if it's a $100 million facility, nobody is building it," city administrator Jim Brownlee said.

Along with the cost comes funding and payment. Who or what would be taxed would need to be discussed, as well as costs of maintaining and operating the building.

The current Veterans Memorial Pool is sponsored by the West Fargo VFW. But another group also has come forward for the new project.

Although they weren't named outright, Erbstoesser said a "very ambitious, enthusiastic" private group has been driving the notion of a new pool. The only caveat to the group's energy is that they seem to not realize just how long it takes to get a project like this up and running.

"It takes us about 100 little steps to their one step," Erbstoesser said.

Enthusiasm from the group could help spur funding for the project, however, which may be one of the biggest advantaged to working with them, officials said.

Where the new community center will be located also has yet to be determined. If, in fact, the school district wants to use it for their Sheyenne High School team, a southerly location would be ideal. More developable land seems to be available to the south of Interstate 94, as well.

But officials gave no inkling Wednesday as to where the community center likely would be placed. That will be further considered when a feasibility study is concluded. The entities decided to begin the study as soon as possible, which would help give direction for the project. Community input also is critical.

While there is no timetable as to when the community center will be built, if ever, there is one thing that is certain: it needs to be special.

"It should be a jewel for West Fargo," park board president Sharon Odegaard said.