A consultant will likely be hired to study the county’s recreation facilities, after officials agreed Tuesday to contribute more than $50,000 to the cause.
The board of the Quality Growth Fund agreed 5-0 to donate $51,500 toward a consultant’s fee.
The nearly $3 million fund derives from city sales tax money and is earmarked for economic development.
The donation gives officials all it needs -- $85,000 -- to hire a consulting firm from Colorado.
The process started when Dave Pederson, the president of the board at the Great Plains Regional Medical Center, gathered an informal group of community representatives to talk about recreation.
Pederson said the medical center board flirted with the idea of building a wellness center in the new hospital expansion, but decided a broader look at the needs of the entire community would be good.
In October, Pederson went before the city council to say that the study needs to be made.
With the council's encouragement, Pederson was back before the council March 5 to tell them bids had been received from consultants to study and make recommendations, and the low bid was $88,500 from Greenplay LLC of Lafayette, Colo.
Four other groups already pledged $33,500 of the cost – the GPRMC ($10,000), the Convention and Visitor’s Center ($10,000), the Chamber and Development Corporation ($8,500) and the Mid-Nebraska Community Development Corporation ($5,000.)
Pederson told the council his group would ask the board of the Quality Growth Fund to contribute, and they did, and got the donation on Tuesday.
The advisory board's unanimous vote came after nearly 90 minutes of discussion and debate. The board became convinced that the business climate of the community would benefit, said Dan Mauk of the Chamber and Development Corporation.
Driving the issue is the age of the 30-year-old city recreation center, which is nearing the end of its lifespan.
And, the right mix of recreation facilities and workout centers will help residents stay in shape, boost productivity and attract people to the community, Pederson has said. School students could benefit from better facilities too.
Obesity is a drain on businesses, Mauk told the Bulletin.
A week ago, several supporters came to the council, including CEO Greg Nielsen of Great Plains Regional Medical Center, Executive Director Lisa Burke of the Lincoln County Visitors Bureau, Superintendant Kevin Dodson of the Catholic Schools, Bob Barr of the city recreation department and businessman Pat Keenan, who is on the advisory board of the Quality Growth Fund.
The $51,500 donation is just a drop in the bucket of the reserves of the Quality Growth Fund, which Mauk said has $2.6 million and will receive another $500,000 or so this year. The QGF has been growing since voters approved it some 12 years ago. The QGF takes a little city sales tax money each year, accumulating it for "quality growth."
Pederson said the next step is to ask the council’s approval of the QGF grant. He and the supporters plan to do that soon.
So far, the only council member to express reservations is Larry Campbell, who wondered aloud if a local consultant could conduct the study.
Pederson told Campbell that a local consultant was considered, but no local firm was found to be qualified.
If the council approves the QGF donation, the study would be conducted in six months, Pederson said. Greenplay would analyze existing facilities, current needs and future needs.
Of course, if the study calls for new construction, more money would be needed. Pederson said major companies in town as well as public agencies could be approached for contributions.
And, if the council says this QGF grant is indeed for economic development, that could pave the way for more quality growth funds for construction.
There would be a lot of bridges to cross first, but Pederson said, “we’re not going to let this set on the shelf.”