COUNCIL WAIVES FEE FOR REC USE AT COMMUNITY CENTER
JEREMY WALTNER – PUBLISHER
The Freeman City Council last week voted 6-0 to allow families and individuals who want to use the Freeman Community Center auditorium for recreation to do so free of charge, as long as another scheduled event is not taking place.
School-sanctioned teams — like Marion/Freeman wrestling — who want to use it for practices will still be assessed a fee.
The action came as the city council met in regular session Monday night, Oct. 26 at the strong urging of council president Terry Jacobsen, who last year was instrumental in getting new basketball hoops installed at the former Freeman Public gymnasium.
“I don’t want a free for all, but if you have high school kids that are being respectful, which I think 99 percent are, let them be in there,” said Jacobson. “We’ve got to promote it for our kids and this is a great (way to do that).”
“You want to play dodge ball, let’s play some dodge ball. I just want to see it used.”
The city has already agreed to allow walking in the community center; those who want to do so need to stop at City Hall to get an access code. The same holds true for others who want to use the space for recreation. Access will be granted until 10 p.m. as long as there is not another scheduled event, like wrestling practice or a wedding reception.
Other councilors agreed with Jacobsen’s recommendation.
“We already pay to heat it,” councilor Charly Waltner said. “The more it gets used probably the less heat we’ll have to pay.”
“It is a community center,” added councilor Blaine Saarie.
The council discussed several other items related to the Wipf Street building that opened as the Freeman High School gym in 1957; the annex to the east came later. When the junior-senior high school was built in 1975, the space became known as the Freeman Elementary gym until a new grade school was built in 2009. Following that, the school district gifted the building to the city, which converted it into a community center that opened in 2012.
Waltner would like to see new curtains installed on the stage to replace the torn and tattered ones that are original to the building. An estimate from Norcostco, Inc. of Minneapolis shows a cost of just under $11,000 for standard stage drapery. Waltner said he would be willing to get other estimates if this was something the council wanted to pursue.
City Finance Officer Adam Van Ningen said there’s about $16,000 left in the community center budget for the remainder of the year with an estimated $4,000 in fixed expenses still to come, like heating and insurance. And the city is also talking about replacing the wooden doors that lead from the lobby into the auditorium, fixing an exterior door on the north side of the building and purchasing new tables and chairs.
“I don’t think we’ll have enough to do it,” Van Ningen said of the purchase of curtains.
Still, the council appeared to endorse the expense.
“They’re shot, I know that,” said Saarie.
“It would leave a positive impression for people coming to Freeman and our community center,” said councilor Charles Gering.
With the council’s support, Waltner said he would provide additional estimates.
The city of Freeman has requested an easement to maintain a drainage ditch that runs through the former Fensel’s property that sits on the south side of Freeman between Cherry and Poplar streets — an area known locally as “Dead Man’s Alley.”
Duane Walters, the city’s water superintendent, told The Courier the city would like to clear out a swath of trees between 50 and 60 feet wide that would start near the northwest portion of the property — near the Vivian Friesen home on south Poplar — and run through the existing wooded area. Walters said the concrete foundations that are part of the grounds do not interfere with the ditch, which carries water from the south.
The property in question was used by Wilmer Fensel for Fensel’s Hatchery in the 1930s and 1940s before Fensel’s moved to the northeast corner of town and began building his business along Highway 81 in the 1950s; today’s Fensel’s Greenhouse and Motel, now in its third generation of ownership, is a result of those efforts.
Bob Wollmann and Deb Beier are the representatives from Fensel’s and are working with the city on the easement request. Wollmann appeared before the council at its Oct. 26 meeting and laid out three possible options for the city to consider as “a good way to get the dialogue started.”
The first option would be to allow the easement in exchange for the city cleaning up the overgrown trees throughout the property, as well as the concrete foundations. The family would retain ownership of the property, improve its overall condition by planting new trees and developing and selling two east-facing lots on Cherry Street that would be included on the city’s tax role.
The second option would be to construct a storm drainage system in the proposed area, cover it with soil and grass in the easement area; the storm system would become part of the new lots on the east side of the property.
The third option would be for the city to purchase the entire property and do with it what it wants.
Wollmann said the first option is their preference and would be a “win-win for everyone involved.”
The council took no action and held little discussion. Instead, the officials want to get a closer look at the property and consider the proposals laid out by Wollmann and Beier before moving forward.
Also at the Oct. 26 meeting the council:
Heard from Waltner that he would have “dollars and cents” proposals at the next council meeting regarding the purchase and installation of equipment that will allow city meetings to be televised on Golden West Channel 90. Waltner said the equipment is in high demand right now; if it is purchased yet this year, officials say special COVID-19 funds allocated to the city can be used to cover the cost;
Approved the purchase of 11 laptops to be used by city councilors and other city officials for approximately $12,500, based on a quote from Craig Miller, who has done other IT work for the city. The exact cost will be determined by the availability of models Miller quoted. The city believes it will be allowed to use its $288,000 in Cares Act funding to cover the purchase. “This is a no-brainer,” said Saarie;
Made several changes to its rates and other charges for city-related services, including a change in fees assessed through the Freeman Ambulance Service, the cost of kennel/boarding pets ($10 per license/$50 minimum) and a public information request research fee of $50 per hour/$50 minimum;
Learned of dozens of public information requests that have come by email from Josue Torres, owner of Doc’s Bar and Mess Hall. Mayor Michael Waltner said the requests are “all very random” and that the city has to, by law, honor the requests when possible. “We would not have reason to decline, other than that which is not permitted,” said the mayor, who noted the requests are in the hands of the city attorney;
Held the first reading of an ordinance that would regulate where mailboxes are placed within city limits;
Agreed to temporarily move the city council meetings from the second and fourth Monday of each month to the first and third Wednesday of each month so as not to conflict with the winter sports season.