By JIM WRIGHT, Correspondent
The Little Falls Community Schools (LFCS) Facilities Steering Committee has considered needs, solutions and potential designs for a new, field house building that would in fact be a Community Center for all ages. The committee at their most recent meeting, Jan. 12 in the Little Falls Community High School auditorium, were shown a PowerPoint presentation by TSP Inc. of Minneapolis and LFCS’s Aaron Sinclair that included a tentative, exterior design.
TSP Architect Ron Halgerson said, “This is not finalized; It’s a work in progress.”
Larry Filippi, a co-owner of Contegrity Group Inc. (CGI), a construction management company based in Little Falls, spoke about the size of the facility.
Filippi said a building such as shown in the tentative schematic would be “about 77,000 square feet. That is an estimate, contingent on more specifics about its components being determined.”
An earlier estimate for the cost of building a field house by Little Falls Supt. Steve Jones, was “conservatively $200 per square foot,” he said. That would be an estimated $15.4 million for a 77,000 square foot building, potentially to be put to the voters of the school district. Building bond referendums are typically funded over 20 years.
Its cost is not included in the $24 million preliminary estimate for all the community’s five school buildings’ other needs which have been considered and prioritized by the steering committee in a series of six meetings since Nov. 6, 2014.
The present high school gymnasium was built 42 years ago when there were only 10 various athletic teams using the facility, and before Title IX legislation took effect requiring equal availability for girls. Now there are more than 20 teams — boys’ and girls’ — sharing the physical education and athletics space.
The middle school gym was built 54 years ago when there were eight teams. Now it has 20 teams.
The district’s three elementary schools also have gym space shortages, with classrooms and cafeterias spilling into some of the gyms. And there are many more teams and other uses, athletics and otherwise, during and after school hours.
That new building, a “Community Center,” in addition to solving the space dilemma would provide walking, recreation and meeting facilities for residents of all ages. It would provide dedicated community service classrooms and meeting rooms available for use by community members. It would also include an indoor walking track, multi-use gymnasium space, and public locker room facilities which would be accessible from 6 a.m. – 10 p.m., Monday through Friday, as well as some hours on Saturdays and Sundays.
Much was learned about how best to fit it all in by a group from LFCS visiting community center/field houses built in four other school districts — Monticello, St. Michael-Albertville, Hastings and Becker — where they learned about what is working and what isn’t for those facilities.
Included in the publicly-accessible Little Falls Community Center would be: Four basketball courts, also used for volleyball, tennis, badminton and other athletics; an indoor track with four to six lanes; multipurpose rooms for, as examples, wrestling, winter golf practice and aerobics classes; batting cages for baseball and softball; a durable synthetic surface that meets the needs of as many activities as possible; flexibility to secure different areas; public locker rooms; and multiple meeting and class rooms for community use.
“Our goal is to make this community-based,” Jones said, “That is the reason why we are doing it in this kind of format (a steering committee of residents).”
The steering committee’s process has drawn upon the expertise of professional consultants, architects, engineers and construction managers. A planning team from TSP Inc. and construction management from CGI have been present at all committee meetings.
The next steps in the process include: submitting a preliminary proposal to the Little Falls District School Board which may approve all or some of it. Then it would be submitted to the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) commissioner. The MDE commissioner then has 60 days to review the proposal and give her approval or disapproval. If approved in time, it may be put on a ballot, May 19, for Little Falls School District voters to decide.
Before that time, a community-wide campaign to review all the information with the public will be active. The next and possibly final School Facilities Steering Committee meetings, open to the public, will be Monday, Jan. 26 and Monday, Feb. 9, both at 6:30 p.m. in the high schools commons.
More information, including minutes of the Steering Committee’s meetings, can be found on the Little Falls Community Schools website: www.lfalls.k12.mn.us/district/facilities-planning.