Sunday, June 12, 2011

May 2011

Wow!  The month of May 2011 was FULL and absolutely flew by. 

The County Board held its regularly scheduled meetings on the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Tuesday of the month, as did the Human Services Board meet at its usual time on the 2nd Tuesday of the month.  I also participated in several meetings for the various committees I serve on including the Public Health and Human Services Advisory Board, Arrowhead Health Alliance, Fiber Optic Network, NE MN Regional Radio Board.  If any of you has questions about these Committees or the work, please ask, I'm happy to share or answer questions.

Community Center Project
In addition to the more typical work of the County Board, there was a huge amount of activity on the Community Center project.  Public Meetings were held on May 10 and May 11 in Grand Marais and Tofte respectively.  A 3rd Meeting---also open to the Public for input and questions--was held on May 19 at the Senior Center downtown.  All (3) meetings were well attended and lasted several hours.   The Community Center Steering Committee met for full day meetings on May 4 and May 20; subcommittee meetings met at various times through the month as well.  The Public and the Press are welcome to attend and listen at all of these meetings.

A lot of good feedback about the Community Center has been received at the Public Meetings and recent County Board Meetings.  Individual Commissioners and Steering Committee Members are also receiving feedback about the project.  It is fair to say that there is both support and opposition to the Community Center Project.  And, it is important to note that there is widespread concern about the affordability and sustainability for the project; a concern that each of us on the County Board shares.

On May 24, the County Board held a Worksession specifically about the Community Center.  Major objectives of this Worksession were to a) Provide detailed information about the design and financials to the County Board, b) Discuss and consider feedback from the Public, c) Give the Steering Committee direction.  ORB Management and Meyer Group Architects were present at this 3 hour meeting; in the audience were several members of the Steering Committee and the Public.  The meeting was productive and ultlimately the County Board reached consensus to move forward with the Community Center project subject to capping the construction costs at $10M plus FFE (furniture, fixtures, equipment), no increase in existing costs to the taxpayer for O&M (operations and maintenance), City participation in bringing their expertise and financial support of $156,000 annually, and identifying the most cost-effective building location that is least disruptive to existing amenities.  The County Board identified the pool as an important (if not the MOST important) feature of the facility.  The County Board also discussed the importance of incorporating energy efficienies into the building, as well as planning for future uses of alternative energies. 

The Community Center Steering Committee met June 10 to discuss, among other things, the location of the facility.  Where to put the building is the most critical decision to be made at this point.  We discussed (6) locations in a fair amount of detail; there are pros and cons to each option, of course, and no final recommendation for the County Board has been made.  Instead, it was determined that more data is needed and a request to gather more data will be moving forward for County Board consideration. 

The Steering Committee Financial Subgroup has also been working diligently to reduce O&M costs for the project.  Not surprisingly, staffing is one of the most significant costs for the proposed new facility.  As a result, County Staff and the Steering Committee are exploring the possibility of contracating with a Qualified Manager or 501(c)(3) to operate the facility and manage the programming.

As you can see, this project continues to evolve.  As Chair of the Steering Committee, I will do my best to keep the Public updated on the project.  The current floorplan, design and financials on the Cook County website are out-of-date and will likely be identified as such, or removed from the website.  We're working to update the Cook County website this coming week with some information about the location options and Meeting Minutes.  I also intend to begin a Q&A on the Cook County Conversations for folks to ask questions and get current information about the project.

All for now.  Stay tuned!