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City Council approves extra $2.3 million for Rec/Senior center

Rochester Senior Center Executive Director Sally Gallagher, center, listens during a standing-room-only public hearing on the new Rochester Recreation/Senior center project Monday evening in the Rochester City Council meeting. The meeting was in the Council/Board Chambers at the city-county Government Center.

After a three-hour public hearing in a packed Rochester City Council chamber, council members voted Monday to appropriate an additional $2.3 million to the Recreation/Senior center local-option sales tax project.

The vote was 6-1, with council member Bruce Snyder casting the nay vote. Snyder said he supports the project overall but thinks giving all of the $2.3 million leftover from Rochester's previous sales tax extension to the Recreation/Senior center project is wrong.

"It leaves us with nothing for the other projects," he said, referring to nine others that are part of the city's new $139.5 million sales tax initiative. "What if they need additional funds? I can't, in good conscience, agree to spend all of our reserves on this one project."

Recreation Center and Senior Center leaders requested the additional funding in late January, telling the City Council that after significantly reducing the scope of the combined project, they still needed another $2.3 million more than the $20 million allotted.

Rochester City Administrator Steve Kvenvold then recommended the city appropriate the reserve fund from the last sales tax initiative to the Rec/Senior center project.


It will upgrade the Recreation Center, located at North Broadway and Elton Hills Drive, and add a 60,000-square-foot Senior Center, which now occupies 27,000 square feet in the historic Rochester Armory building at 121 N. Broadway.

The project's design team, including the centers' officials and hired architects, say the Recreation Center needs another $1 million on top of its allotted $8 million to upgrade the aging facility's pool and filtration system, make other improvements and add a warm water lap pool for senior citizens and swimming training. The Senior Center needs an additional $1.3 million over its allotted $12 million to provide adequate wellness and enrichment programs for seniors, the design team said.

Getting the additional funding has not been easy. City Council members, especially Michael Wojcik, posed some tough questions about the design process during a January meeting. The council asked Senior Center Executive Director Sally Gallagher and Rochester Sports Facilities Director Dale McCamish to look into some design questions and seek more community ideas.

However, after a presentation Monday night led by Rochester's new Park and Recreation Director Paul Widman, and testimony from Gallagher, McCamish, architects and others involved in the design, most of the council members were ready to hand over the requested funds.

"I can't think of a better way to invest the $2.3 million, so I'm going to support this," said council member Ed Hruska after the public hearing and before the vote. His comment received applause and cheers from the audience, most of whom were senior citizens.

Many seniors, as well as parents of children who swim, play hockey and figure skate at the Recreation Center, spoke in favor of the additional funding for the project.

There were also a few people who spoke against the extra funding. One was Cindy Maves, a leader in the Rochester Tea Party Patriots political group. She pointed out the new Boys & Girls Club of Rochester facility was on the list of sales tax projects before being knocked out by the state Legislature.

"And the Boys & Girls Club went out and raised its $8 million to put up their own building," Maves said, adding she thinks the Senior Center should do the same.


Like Snyder, Maves said the $2.3 million in reserve money should be saved in case other sales tax projects need it.

"Rochester citizens gave $20 million for the project, and that should be enough," she said.

But others pointed out that when the Rec/Senior center project was first proposed, officials estimated a cost of $33 million. That was later reduced to $26 million and, finally, to $20 million by the state Legislature. None of the other projects had their budgets reduced, they said.

Although Wojcik voted to approve the funding in the end, he has been critical of the design since the centers first showed it in January. His criticism has focused on what he said is inadequate energy efficiency of the building, a poor site layout and inadequate planning for future transit and development at the site.

Assistant City Administrator Gary Neumann suggested that city staff seek a consultant to analyze the building's energy efficiency and find ways to improve it. The council unanimously approved that suggestion.

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