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Ottertail considers new community center

A citywide meeting to discuss a possible fire hall/ community center expansion in the city of Ottertail drew a roomful of community members, many eager to share their opinion of exactly what type of a facility they'd like to see in the city.

A citywide meeting to discuss a possible fire hall/ community center expansion in the city of Ottertail drew a roomful of community members, many eager to share their opinion of exactly what type of a facility they'd like to see in the city.

The purpose of the meeting was to gather public input to see whether or not there was a general interest in either expanding onto the existing fire hall/ community center or possibly constructing a new building. In addition to advertising the meeting locally, the city sent out a mailing to Ottertail's "snowbirds" asking for their opinions.

Councilman Terry Wagenman led the evening's open forum meeting, prompting an hour-long discussion which focused primarily on what the attendees would like to see included in a community center if a larger facility were built.

One of the more general concerns discussed was the need for more space both for community events and parking. "We need a lot of space for benefits and events such as Otter Dazzle and Otter Fest," Wagenman reported. Representatives from the Ottertail Lions Club shared this sentiment, adding how convenient it would be if the city's community center included a full-size kitchen.

Although the meeting was primarily focused on developing a community vision for a future expansion, Wagenman did inform the public of some preliminary cost estimates that were given to the city council by Ronald Dick, president of Design 7 from Fargo, ND.

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When Dick attended a Nov. 19 city council meeting, he estimated the cost to build onto the existing fire hall building at $75 per square foot and the cost of building an entirely new community center at $100 per square foot.

Concerns were raised over how the expansion would be financed, with property owners questioning whether or not their taxes would be raised to fund such a project. While a few people at the meeting expressed a reluctance to support any project that would necessitate a tax raise, the majority of the taxing concerns came from written responses to the council's mailing asking for input.

The general consensus, even among those opposed to raising taxes, was that the expansion would be a great idea, as long as funds were raised through methods not involving a tax increase. The possibility was suggested that the city could apply for some grant money to help finance the project.

As far as locations go, only one possible site for a new community center was discussed. Wagenman mentioned the possibility of building the center on the city owned land near the water tower and tractor pull area.

Suggestions people at the meeting gave for what should be included in a new community center are: a community room with a stage, full kitchen, locker rooms, showers for firemen, senior citizens center, multi-purpose gymnasium, training room, storage space, garage, pool, hot tub, massage therapy room, city offices, and a visitor information center.

A committee was developed to help investigate what other neighboring cities have done with their fire hall and community center facilities and to decide which avenues Ottertail should pursue. The volunteer committee is composed of Jerry Smith, Mike Windey, Terry Wagenman, Darold Woessner, and Jeff Spanswick.

"I personally would be very pleased if in ten years we could see something started," concluded Wagenman.

Councilman Jeff Spanswick added, "The nice thing about the long-range plan is that we have time to go out and look for the money."

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After the committee has a few months to examine possible options, Wagenman suggested scheduling another public meeting to review the findings and again seek public input. The meeting is tentatively scheduled for sometime in the spring or summer, when more of the city's seasonal residents can attend.

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