City council gives final approval for community center

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

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“Let’s build it!” said Mayor Gary Wolkow. The De Smet Common Council voted April 9 to move forward with plans to construct a community center next to the site of the planned athletic complex. But the decision came after an agonizing final push to fund the center.


After coming in some $600,000 over budget at the bid openings at last month’s council meeting, the De Smet community center project had faced a $1,306,273 deficit, including funding shortfalls. Project organizers would now have only a month to raise the remaining money.


“We were just devastated,” development director Rita Anderson said. After years of tireless fundraising, the development board was now at a difficult crossroads. The project would need to fight simply to stay alive.


“We were going to have to cut something major,” Anderson said. Two important components of the planned center were headed toward the chopping block; the theater that many supporters saw as the best reason for building the project in the first place; and the planned wellness center, the inclusion of which provided the grant funding to start the project some two years ago.


“We were trying to get a 30-day extension to postpone the bids,” Rita said. Meanwhile, Dale Jans, the project’s construction manager, went back to the drawing board to cut out unnecessary bling from the building and worked with the contract bid-winners to attempt to squeeze lower costs out of them.


Jans was able to save the project almost $136,000 by using pre-cast concrete from a local supplier. He also recommended using a gravel parking lot, for now, instead of paving it, for a savings of $128,000.


Local businesses such as DeSCo, Barrett’s, CMI and Midwest Glass generously offered to reduce their fees. Jans even reduced his own fee by $45,000 among a myriad of other smaller changes.


Anderson said, “On Monday night [April 7] when we met, Jans had managed to cut $710,000.” Just 23 days after taking a major blow at the city council meeting in March, the project seemed to have new life.


 Even with the cuts, Anderson said, “We were still short $450,000.” The board still faced the prospect of considerably downsizing the planned community center.


That was when the project fundraisers took over and cruised around the community in a final push. A flurry of effort in one 24-hour period between April 7 and 9 raised $425,000 — almost the entire funding shortfall.


Two days later, city attorney Todd Wilkinson could tele-conference in and join the city council from Washington, D.C., where he was attending a meeting, and advise them, “It would be logical to move forward with the project.” He underlined his support by donating the final $14,000 himself — right there at the meeting.


David Tritle


The De Smet News

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