Bloomington, YMCA to work toward new community center

There are many questions and few answers, but the city of Bloomington has a partner in its search.

The city is investigating options for replacing Creekside Community Center, an idea that has been discussed formally and informally for the past few years. In an effort to find a way to accomplish the task – with a price estimate of $40 million at the low end – the Bloomington City Council unanimously approved a memorandum of understanding with YMCA Twin Cities to work in partnership toward a solution.

The memorandum of understanding is the latest step in a slowly evolving process the city is undertaking to replace the Penn Avenue community center, a former school building that has been modified to accommodate group meetings and activities, including meal service.

A collaborative effort to establish a new community center was among recommendations made by a 2015 task force that considered the city’s options for the future of its community center, either through renovation of the existing building or replacement of it. Replacing the building due to its age and the need for more than $4 million in updates was the task force’s recommendation, according to Diann Kirby, the city’s community services director.

The task force also recommended developing a facility that provides amenities that attract and retain residents of all ages, including an indoor pool, a large multi-purpose room, fitness center and an indoor play area, Kirby told the council. And, the task force recommended that the council examine a variety of funding options and possible partnerships to offset the cost of development, Kirby noted.

YMCA is “one of the largest nonprofit social service organizations in the metro area,” according to Kirby, and was a willing partner that began discussing a potential partnership last fall. The city’s staff looked to other potential partners, including organizations that provide fitness and recreation facilities, but “none were interested in collaborating on a community center project in Bloomington at this time,” she said.

The memorandum is a non-binding agreement that sets a timeline to keep the process moving and outlines the tasks that need to be accomplished in order for a project to commence. The tasks include an analysis of the programming that should be provided by a new community center. It also will outline how the amenities will be allocated to users of the facility. Some amenities may give priority access to Bloomington residents while others may be reserved for YMCA members, Kirby explained.

How the funding and financing of the building should be divided between the entities is also on the agenda. It is anticipated a variety of funding options would be included. The ownership arrangement for the finished building needs to be hammered out, as well, and plans are needed for operations and maintenance once the building is functioning, Kirby noted.

A task force of at least three representatives from both the city and YMCA will negotiate the plan, and those representatives will be chosen by the end of September. The city’s representatives will include at least one council member, one city staff member and one resident. That group will narrow down the potential sites for a new building to two before the YMCA begins a market study for the facility, according to Kirby.

Site selection is anticipated by March 2018, with groundbreaking to commence a year later. If the project follows the timeline to completion, the facility would be open by March 2020, Kirby said.

The timeline does not account for a bond referendum, and would need to be adjusted should the council seek a referendum to help fund the facility, she noted.

Councilmember Tim Busse asked if a referendum could be held concurrently with the project’s development. Kirby said that some tasks could continue while a referendum is sought, but it was unclear what could or couldn’t be done without an answer to a referendum question, she said.

Councilmember Jon Oleson served on the 2015 task force and noted that the group started the process with the help of a consultant, and agreed more research is needed to determine what needs a new community center should meet. “I’m looking forward to getting it taken care of, one way or the other,” he said.


Follow Bloomington community editor Mike Hanks on Twitter at @suncurrent and on Facebook at suncurrentcentral.