Talk begins for change in Sports Center management

FLAAA, ISD 831, FL city begin dialogue

Cliff Buchan
News Editor

Could Forest Lake School District 831 be returning to the ice arena operation business?

It has been just over three years since the school district shuttered the Maroon and Gold Sports Center and the new Forest Lake Sports Center opened under the direction of the Forest Lake Area Athletic Association. Now talks have commenced that will explore future options for the sports center and the possibility that the school district could assume management or even ownership.

The school board heard a brief report at its regular meeting on Thursday, Feb. 2 that indicated the school district would join FLAAA and the city of Forest Lake in a process that will weigh future options.

ISD 831 Superintendent of Schools Linda Madsen said a feasibility study now being prepared by Ehlers of Roseville, a Minnesota firm that offers financial consulting services to governmental agencies, will help guide the process.

She is part of a six-member study group that includes Mayor Chris Johnson, City Administrator Aaron Parrish, Forest Lake Sports Center General Manager Larry Porter, FLAAA’s Al Hauge and the school district’s Larry Martini, director of business services.

The group first met last fall. Madsen says she is hopeful the report by Ehlers will be completed by late this month and go before the school board’s finance, policy and staff welfare committees in March. A report to the full school board could come on Thursday, March 29 which will serve as the April business session of the school board, she said.

Madsen said ISD 831 officials were approached late in 2011 to see if there was any interest in talking about the future of the ice arena complex which has two ice sheets. “We said yes, we’d look,” Madsen said.

That led to the district offering to retain Ehlers for its financial review, she said. “We really need to have that information first,” she said.

FLAAA View

Porter, a longtime fixture with FLAAA programs here, is serving as acting general manager of the facility. He said FLAAA is not adamant about getting out of the ice arena business but is willing to explore options that might best serve the community.

“We are cash flowing,” Porter said. A major hurdle, however, is the $200,000 annual expense for debt service on the $4.5 million bond that was sold to finance the facility and a $200,000 bridge loan. The facility is making its monthly payments, he said.

The facility was built in 2008 at a cost of $5.7 million. The land value is an additional $2.6 million for total valuation of $8.3 million. The land remains under city ownership but was leased to the FLAAA for $1 to assist in the project. The city also assisted with the bond sale.

Four area banks — Village Bank of St. Francis,  and the Forest Lake offices of Central Bank, Patriot Bank Minnesota (now First Resources Bank of Savage) and Frandsen Bank & Trust, teamed to take equal shares in the lending, Porter said.

The association was successful in raising just over $1 million from local fund-raisng events and securing grants from two major foundations to  help complete the project, Porter added.

He’s uncertain where the feasibility study may carry the matter. “If we look at the long-term, the facility might be better with the city or the school district,” Porter said.

Until the study is completed, Porter said FLAAA will continue to take steps to build its programs and revenue streams. “We are going forward,” he said.

Goals of Study

Madsen said the Ehlers study will focus on three main areas.

They are:

•The current status of the sports center and Fenway Athletic Park for the school district, the city and FLAAA.

•What could be changed or enhanced to better serve the community and youth.

•How might the three organizations work more efficiently and effectively with regard to the sports center and Fenway.

Where the study takes the process is yet to be determined, but Madsen says a deeper school district involvement in the facility could be considered. “That certainly could be a possibility,” she said of future ownership.

The financial implications of any such move would involve the school board as the final decision-maker, she said.

“We need to have that third-party look,” she said of the study and some determination of the implications for the school district.

Porter said the Fenway Athletic Park matter was being added to shed clarity on the FLAAA commitment to the total complex location just off Fenway Avenue south of TH-97. FLAAA has assumed management and maintenance duties for the athletic complex under an agreement with the city.

The agreement is a $70,000 annual expenditure for FLAAA, Porter said.

He added that he is hopeful some resolution can be found relating to the operational structure at both the sports center and the athletic complex.

“We are much better at running sports programs,” Porter said. “Quite frankly, we are doing the fields because someone has to do it.”

The sports center is an off-shoot of the community center proposal that started in the late summer of 2001, but could not be carried through to completion. Porter said FLAAA stepped forward with the arena project when it became clear the city and the school district would not build a new ice complex.

After many months of fund-raising and work to nail down grants, the project was realized in 2008. Porter said he was hopeful the study would diagram a plan that would be for the betterment of all parties in the future.

“I’d like to think it [the sports center] could end up in the hands of the school district,” Porter said. “We’d [the hockey association] be their biggest customer.”

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