Council gets look at sports, MERIT center designs

MARSHALL – Members of the Marshall City Council got their first look at the designs for two major building projects planned for Marshall, during a special meeting Tuesday night. Supporters of the planned Marshall regional amateur sports center, and expansions at the Minnesota Emergency Response and Industrial Training Center, joined council members for a design presentation.

David Maroney, an architect with the firm of ATS&R, talked about the major features of each project’s design.

The sports center would have more than 78,000 square feet of space that can be used for sporting and multipurpose events, Maroney said. The building would be placed and designed so that it will be visible from the intersection of Minnesota Highway 23 and Minnesota Highway 19, even with some planned business development nearby. The location will also put the sports center close to Southwest Minnesota State University and Marshall High School. A two-story entrance area with large windows will be a visual focal point for visitors coming toward the sports center, he said.

Inside, the sports center will have two sheets of ice, one meant for year-round use and another for use about six months of the year, Maroney said. The main rink would seat about 1,400 spectators, using telescoping bleachers. When not in use, the ice arena space could be converted for holding expos, trade shows or other large events.

Other features of the sports center would include 10 locker rooms, including varsity and junior varsity locker rooms for the Marshall home team, a club room and a concessions area.

“I think it’s going to be a special, memorable place,” Maroney said.

Outside the sports facility, the plans also included four baseball/softball fields, clustered around a central building with concessions and restrooms, Maroney said.

Marshall City Administrator Ben Martig said capital financial planning for the sports center was still going on. He said the estimated cost of the project, including land acquisition, design, construction and fixtures and equipment, was about $16.1 million. Planned funding sources included local sales taxes approved by voters last fall, about $500,000 in private contributions and a state bonding request of about $4.2 million.

Maroney said the goal for the sports center was to have it open by July of 2015.

The MERIT Center project would add more than 7,000 square feet of space to the center’s existing building, Maroney said. That space would be used for additional classrooms and driving simulators used in driver’s education.

In the expanded part of the MERIT Center, there would be a driving track including a 1.5 mile loop with a .36 mile straightaway. The track could be used for driving instruction for both members of the public and law enforcement, Maroney said. Additional features included a cul-de-sac and “skid pad” that could be used to practice driving in wet conditions.

Stan Brewers, chairman of the MERIT Center Committee, said the driving track would serve people in a 19-county area in Minnesota, as well as eastern South Dakota and northwestern Iowa. Harry Weilage of Marshall Community Services and Dawn Regnier of Minnesota West Community and Technical Colleges said the MERIT expansions would have a big impact on training and education opportunities in the region.

“Marshall is strategically positioned to have this driving track,” Brewers said.

Martig said the estimated cost of the project, including land acquisition, design, construction and fixtures and equipment, was about $7.4 million. Planned funding sources included $1 million in state bonding money granted in 2010, local sales taxes and an additional state bonding request of $2.5 million.

Martig said the bonding requests for both projects will need bipartisan support in the Minnesota Legislature. Maroney and Martig said there were alternate plans for both projects if additional state bonding requests are not approved. In the case of the MERIT Center, the track would be smaller, and not include additional driving features like the cul-de-sac.

For the sports center, not getting the $4.8 million in state bonding would mean building only one sheet of ice and no central concession building for the ball fields.

Maroney said the alternative builds were approved by community design committees for both the sports center and MERIT Center. It wasn’t an easy decision to make for either group, he said, but, “I applaud the group on being straightforward.”

He said project supporters were also being proactive on coming up with possible fundraising options, if they’re needed.

Southwest Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission chairman Roger Madison said community partnerships and teamwork have been essential to both projects.

“While they are two separate projects, there’s been a lot of work done together to get us to this point,” Madison said.

Council members spoke up with concerns about possibly having to build the smaller versions of the projects. With the MERIT Center in particular, “The driving track is the thing that’s going to attract people,” said council member Mike Boedigheimer. “We need the whole show.”

Martig said the MERIT Center expansion will need to move forward whether it receives additional state bonding money or not. If the project doesn’t proceed, the center will lose the $1 million the state gave it in 2010.

Madison said it will be important to make it clear to legislators what is needed to make the sports center and MERIT Center successful.

Council member Glenn Bayerkohler asked if it would be possible to reallocate local sales tax funds to help one of the two projects if it doesn’t receive bonding money. And if that was possible, he said, would the sports center or the MERIT Center take priority?

“If we have to allocate money, shouldn’t we have priorities?” Bayerkohler said.

The answer to that question wasn’t immediately forthcoming at the meeting.

Council member Larry Doom said it was important to thank all the people who have been involved in getting the two projects this far.

“I think we need to keep that vision in front of us,” as the projects move forward, he said.