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Cook County Community YMCA opens in January
By Kate Jackson
After more than eight years of planning, the new Cook County Community YMCA in Grand Marais was celebrated with a ribbon-cutting on Jan. 4. Completing the nearly $10 million project came after many years of dedicated planning, hard-work and collaboration among community members and different levels of government.
Plans for the project began to take shape in August 2005 when the Community Center Revitalization/Recreation Committee was formed in response to a growing desire to improve recreational facilities. The goal was to thoroughly assess the current community center and school grounds to pinpoint shortcomings. Discussions were held considering the possibility of extending and repurposing an existing 1 percent sales tax, which was being used at that time to renovate and expand Cook County-North Shore Hospital.
During the next few years, the Cook County Board of Commissioners, Grand Marais City Council and School District 166 worked in conjunction with residents to identify area recreation needs and lay initial plans for the new community center. In 2009, a bill was approved by the Minnesota Legislature allowing Cook County to hold a voter referendum deciding whether or not to impose the 1 percent recreation and infrastructure sales tax. The referendum passed in late 2009 and the county began collecting the tax in April of 2010.
Planning began in earnest later in 2010 with the formation of the Community Center Steering Committee, which brought together a diverse array of individuals representing the school board, county board and local business owners. Sue Hakes, Cook County commissioner and member of the Community Center Steering Committee, has been advocating for the project since its early days.
“The really beautiful part of this project,” Hakes said, “is the collaboration between the public, the county board, the city council and the school board to make this happen.”
The Steering Committee hired ORB Management of Alexandria, Minn., for consulting purposes and to manage the construction process. Earlier plans for a larger $12 million facility had to be downsized after it was decided that maintenance and staffing would be too costly for the county. Eventually, a more manageable $9 million budget was adopted.
In September 2012, after exploring several options, the committee proposed the facility be attached to the existing School District 166 building in Grand Marais. The west wing of the school was sold to the county for $166,000 and a 99-year lease with a rate of $1 per year. The committee was also engaging in talks with the Duluth Area YMCA in hopes of forming a collaboration with the non-profit. In October 2012, an agreement was signed deciding that the YMCA would manage the community center and provide programming.
The project officially broke ground on December 10, 2012. In the year that followed, the steering committee and Cook County Board worked with Project Manager Wade Cole (of ORB Management) to move forward with construction while staying on schedule and on budget. The project’s location presented some unique challenges in order to meet the needs of both the existing school and the new YMCA. Obstacles were resolved successfully, allowing for the new facility to be completed on time in December of 2013.
“Its been a long process, but we’re so pleased with the outcome.” said Commissioner Hakes.
Emily Marshall was named executive director in May 2013. Marshall has a long history with the Duluth Area YMCA. She had served as the aquatics director since 2002 and in numerous other roles including program director of Camp Miller, the YMCA summer camp located in Sturgeon Lake. The new YMCA currently employs two people full-time in addition to having 20 part-time employees.
The major amenities of what has been officially named the Cook County Community YMCA include a four-lane swimming pool, with a zero-depth entry area for small children as well as a fully renovated gymnasium. The facility also features cardio and weight-lifting rooms, an exercise studio, teen and party areas plus a lounge with wireless Internet. The YMCA’s proximity to the school means this facility will not only improve access to recreational opportunities but also directly enhance the educational environment for students who attend the school.
A conservative estimate for membership sales for the entire first year, 400 membership units or around 822 individual memberships, was exceeded on the day of the grand opening. Hakes, who attended the event, later commented on the success.
“We are so pleased that the membership has far exceeded our expectations,” she said. “Ten days after the grand opening, we have already exceeded 900 individual memberships.”Previous Construction Articles:
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