By Ana Alexander
DASSEL, COKATO, MN Dassel-Cokato Regional Ice and Sports Center (DCRISC) board members Clark Moe and Keith Raisanen visited the Dassel-Cokato School Board special meeting Tuesday, to update board members on the center’s progress.
“This has been, believe it or not, a 17-year grassroots effort, and that structure stands there only because of the great support we’ve gotten from the school board, from Jeff [Powers], and the administration,” Raisanen said. “It’s certainly taking far longer than we ever dreamed, but it’s slowly becoming a reality.”
Portions of the DCRISC have been built only as the board receives money, and the first phase of the construction was completed in 2012. Interior construction for the building has been on-going, and the goal is to complete the work and obtain a Certificate of Occupancy by the end of 2016.
Gaining occupancy will mean people can start going in the building. Another goal of phase two is to be able to skate on natural ice in the building, while phase three includes the addition of refrigeration equipment, which will allow visitors to skate on refrigerated ice.
“The goal, and our deadline with the school, was the end of this year. Due to delays in getting the permit and some of those changes, it’s probably going to leak into 2017 a little bit, where the school board may have to consider giving an extension,” Raisanen said.
According to Raisanen, the initial bid for the project was 300 percent over engineering estimates, so they were not accepted, and the bids were restructured. Raisanen said that contractors are busy, and the first round did not result in any local bidders, while they received several local bidders during the second round.
Raisanen said that once the facility is completed, it will be used for multiple purposes, in addition to being a hockey arena.
“I believe it would be the single largest structure under one roof that would be available for trade shows, art fairs, or antique shows,” Raisanen said. “We’ve already been getting people asking us if they can rent this space next summer for their reunion or get-togethers. We’re not at that point, but people are starting to ask about it.”
The building would also be able to be utilized for other athletic purposes tennis, track, softball, volleyball, football, or basketball practice could all be arranged in the large space the facility would have to offer.
The board also anticipates that the hockey program would grow once the facility is completed. Currently, students participating in hockey face a few challenges.
“We’ve got a great program, typically about 100 kids, many of whom are not participating in formal youth hockey because of the time, distance, and costs,” Raisanen said. “A lot of it is the awful hours that these kids have to be out on the road. We’ve got seventh- and eighth-graders coming home at 10 or 11 at night following practice.”
Raisanen noted that the program has seen success, but the hours are undesirable. The junior varsity team has to leave a little after 5 a.m. to make practice at 6 a.m. in Litchfield, for example.
There are currently about 200 kids participating in hockey, according to Moe.
“I think, with a local arena, that number would go up,” School Board Chair Tracy McConkey said. “If our kids had to travel to Litchfield to play football, do you think we’d have fifth- and sixth-graders out there? We wouldn’t. You build something local, and those numbers are going to go up.”
“Without a doubt,” Board Member Chuck Nelson agreed.
According to Raisanen, the DCRISC is continually bringing in funds. However, there is still a shortcoming in funds when it comes to completing the project as planned.
“As we’re raising funds, we’re realizing that costs of construction are going up about as fast as we’re bringing money in,” Raisanen said.
The way the project was planned from its onset, the school has the right to take the building by the end of the year.
“Our board met two weeks ago to discuss the best way to cooperate with the school, to ensure that the facility is ultimately finished as a usable, school and community multi-use facility. Our board took formal action to gift the arena to the school if we finish phase two like we’re talking, the value of the building will be roughly $1.75 million,” Raisanen said. “If the school accepts it, then the school would have the flexibility to proceed with the final design for maximum school usability, and with design input from the school board and from Paul [Youngquist, the architect on the project].”
The DCRISC board debated the best way to proceed, according to Raisanen, and decided that gifting the facility to the school would be the best option. The DCRISC would continue to use up its funds to complete the project.
Board member Mark Linder questioned why this action would be taken, given that the project is not far off it’s original scheduled timeline.
“It seems like, with that original discussion with the four of us, six years ago, being a year off [on the project], this seems a little drastic to me,” Linder said. “We’re only a year off on our original five-year timeline.”
Raisanen said the DCRISC board was looking for the best route to complete the project.
“I’ve had people ask me out on the street or at school functions, what would it take to finish this building? That’s what’s causing us to do some soul-searching at our board,” Raisanen said. “It’s really not as dramatic as it maybe seems, it’s just facing the realities of how to get that 37,000-square-foot building [in use].”
No action was needed from the council during the special meeting, but the board, including the newly-elected members, will have to make a decision in the upcoming months.
If the board did accept the facility as a gift, the DCRISC would not be a complete arena right away.
“Our goal is to have it be a finished arena with refrigerated ice, but there’s a lot that goes into that. We talked all along, we went into this whole situation, saying we don’t want to own an arena, but we don’t want any costs, we don’t want the liability to us. The dollars, and they vary greatly, but the dollars to get this to skateable ice, refrigerated ice they’re high,” Powers said. “The only way the school is going to have that kind of money is if our voters say, ‘We want you to spend our money that way.’ It’s a matter of progressing now.”
Once the facility is built, it’s operational budget would not be a concern, according to Raisanen.
“The arena will be the only sports entity that earns money, or can charge money. So, in simplest terms, the operating budget is pretty much breaking even,” Raisanen said.
Linder stated he thought accepting the facility would be received well by the community.
“My initial impression is, I think if we would accept the gift, the message we’re sending to the community is that our intentions are to spend the money to complete it,” Linder said.
Linder stated that he did not want the community to think the facility would turn into a “bus barn,” and that in accepting the facility, it would give the right impression.
Board member Bill Aho thought working with the DCRISC board would be a good move, as well.
“I think it’s necessary for us to partner up and see what we can do to make this usable, and I think it’s very, very positive. By working together, we can find a way to at least get some ice in there, get something done, so we can start utilizing it as a school district. The school district will be using it far more than anyone else,” Aho said. “I’d love nothing more than to see ice in there.”
Board member Irene Bender said she was at the DCRISC’s first presentation, and admired the work they put into the project.
“I think it’s amazing what you’ve done, and I knew after we granted the first extension it was not going to be a bus barn. We’ve gotten in deeper and deeper, and not that that’s a bad thing, but I’ve just been trying to think how we could do a study,” Bender said. “There’s no doubt it’s a wonderful building and it has all kinds of potential, but are we able to do it without sacrificing our first commitment to providing the education we’re now providing?”
Raisanen brought up a study on student athletes, which discussed the skills athletes build that they can apply to other parts of their life, like teamwork, time-management, and goal-setting and achieving.
“I think I would view it as an opportunity for our kids to participate at a higher level in athletics, beyond hockey,” Raisanen said.
Nelson agreed with Raisanen.
“I wouldn’t view it as a hockey thing, because from a community standpoint, I have all kinds of people asking me what’s going on with the hockey rink, and they’re not even hockey people they just know that it’s good for the community and for the kids,” Nelson said. “Ultimately, the way I look at it is, it’s going to come down to the voters anyway. Bottom line is, if we’re going to do phase three, it’s going to take going to the voters.”
According to McConkey, the school board will work with the DCRISC board in the next four to six weeks to work out a plan for the progress of the facility, while utilizing as much of the funding as they can.
“I think it’s heading in the right direction,” Aho said.
Odds and ends
In other business, the board:
• canvassed the election results, congratulating Irene Bender on her reelection, and welcoming Shane Colberg and Dave Sangren to the board.
• heard from Conway, Deuth, & Schmiesing certified public accountant Paul Harvego that no weaknesses were found in the school’s recent audit.
• successfully completed the annual employee evaluation of Superintendent Jeff Powers at its special meeting Nov. 10.