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City moves ahead with aquatics center study

West Fargo City Commissioners voted unanimously Monday night to move forward with a feasibility study that will look at several different areas regarding a proposed Community Center and Aquatics Facility for the city of West Fargo.

The Commission approved a seven-point memorandum of understanding in January. Since that time, city staff, the West Fargo Park Board and the West Fargo School District have been collaborating, exploring and researching the topics with input and information received from several professionals.

Among the areas studied were: determining the components to include in such a facility, along with the location; an estimate of initial and annual operating costs; identifying potential funding sources for both capital construction and to cover annual operating costs; and suggesting a model to manage the operations of the facility.

City Administrator Jim Brownlee made the presentation Monday night telling commissioners the purpose of the study will be to come up with solid information. "Even if we can build it, can we afford to operate it? He said. "That is what we really need to answer."

Estimated cost for the feasibility study is $60,000. The West Fargo Park Board gave their approval to the study at their meeting earlier this month and the West Fargo School Board is expected to do the same at their next meeting.

Cost of the study will be shared by the city, school and park district. The Park District staff will take the lead with the project with the support of a steering committee. The study consultant will be selected based on facility/design qualification and conduct the study under the guidance of the steering committee members.

The study is expected to be completed by September 2012 with findings shared at that time.

Construction costs outlined in the findings of the initial study committee range from $16 million to $22.4 million, depending upon the option scenarios, which range from a 25 meter competitive pool with other amenities to a 62.4 meter competitive pool and amenities.

As for a possible location, the West Fargo Park District has a ten-acre site located on 26th Avenue East.

Potential funding sources touched on have included: a proposed half-cent sales tax increase, a fundraising campaign through private citizen group, and other capital contributions from the park district and school district for recreational and competitive swimming uses.

Operational costs could be covered through a variety of rental, lease and other user's fees.

The feasibility study should serve to clarify the best route to take regarding all these memorandum points, arriving at location, the best features of the facility as well as more specific funding sources.

Commissions agreed there is a need for a new community pool, but they also want to be cautious making sure there is solid financial support in place for both construction and operating costs before proceeding beyond the feasibility study.

Referencing other fundraising campaigns for buildings that have fallen short, Mayor Rich Mattern said "I just think we need a little more assurance that we won't be left out in the cold. I don't want to get to the point where we are looking at the same thing as some of the other places that have had problems. I think we need to address that, whether it means starting small and continuing as we put money in the bank."

Commissioner Mike Thorstad agreed saying "I think it is good we have a consultant and hopefully they will give us cold, hard facts." Regarding any sales tax increase as a proposed method of funding, Thorstad also noted that talks about water treatment are still in the works and that such a tax had been mentioned regarding that project.

In other action, the commission:

-approved first reading of Ordinance No. 924 relating to the number of Planning Commission -members appointed and term of office. The amendment will allow for eight members instead of seven because of the recently recorded increase in city population over 25,000;

-okayed a conditional use permit for an oversized, 2,400 square foot, accessory building at 406 -Woodland Place, West Fargo, per a request from Robert and Lavonne Lyberg who want to build a detached garage and a CUP is needed for any size over 1,000 in the extraterritorial jurisdiction;

-approved an access request onto Ninth Street Northeast from property on the west side of the road by the Nordick Group;

-awarded the contract for Sewer and Water Improvement District No. 1239, Shiloh Street and 23rd Ave. E. to Johnson Excavation, Ottertail, Minn., with a low bid of $42,470, upon condition that reference checks come back favorable. The engineer's estimate was $45,000.

-agreed to approved amended existing TRI agreements for Butler and Charleswood, so further expansion can occur for businesses in the property areas.

The next regularly scheduled meeting of the West Fargo City Commission will take place Monday, July 2 at 5:30 p.m. in the Commission Chamber at West Fargo City Hall, 800 4th Ave. E. All meetings are open to the public.