A group of 50 Vermillion citizens didn't know what to expect as it gathered Monday night to hear from a local representative of the Integrated Community Action Planning Group (ICAP) and a consultant from the architectural firm of Koch Hazard from Sioux Falls about its findings regarding the construction of a new community center in Vermillion.
By the end of the nearly hour-long meeting held in the Edith B. Siegrist Vermillion Public Library, the gathering agreed that a familiar course should be followed. It agreed that a citizens' committee should be formed in the near future to carry out the harder, more specific work needed to make a $7.5 million, 48,000 square foot center a reality in Vermillion.
Citizens' committees have been utilized over the years to help major public projects become a reality in the community, from the construction a new city hall in 2009 and the expansion of the public library to the building of the new Prentis Plunge aquatic center in Prentis Park.
Matt Fairholm, a local University of South Dakota professor who has served on ICAP, was the facilitator of Monday night's meeting, called to review the group's feasibility study of the community center.
"It's been more than a year's process to gather information," he said. "For years, perhaps you've been aware that the chatter around town is that we need a place for some larger events -- more athletic facilities, perhaps -- all sorts of different ideas of places for people to go, both children and adults. We lack sometimes the capacity in our current spaces.
"The ICAP took it upon itself to create some benchmarking, some starting points and data to continue this process," he said.
ICAP was established in 2015 with representatives from the city of Vermillion, Clay County, the University of South Dakota, the Vermillion School District and the Vermillion Chamber and Development Corporation.
Several years ago, when a housing study was conducted in Vermillion, one of the suggestions that came out of the process was the formulation of ICAP to help integrate some of the major elected officials from local government and representatives of other groups in the community to "come together to talk about bigger issues," Fairholm said.
The group organized the effort to install welcome signs on the east and west sides of town in 2016. Attention then shifted to ongoing informal discussions regarding the need for a community center.
"This community center seemed to be the perfect kind of a project to have all of these entities gather together and work on this big idea," he said. Fairholm added that his role with ICAP is to serve as its clerk and as the presenter at Monday's meeting.
Koch Hazard Architects was engaged in 2017 to complete a feasibility study to determine the need, program, location, cost and possible funding sources for the center.
"We began to think what a community center might include," Fairholm said. "We need to figure out, if we were do a community center, what would it be like, where would it be, what kinds of things would be in it. These were the initial thoughts we brought to our consultant, we brought other people from the community in, we asked a variety of people to begin to get an idea of what it might take to do the community center."
Representatives of the architectural firm met with the ICAP group over the course of several months to gather and summarize the input collected by the committee members over the past few years. A list of interested community groups was developed and representatives contacted to ascertain their potential interest in and usage of a new facility. All groups that expressed interest were interviewed. Results of the ICAP and community group meetings informed an initial space program.
"The biggest spaces are a flexible athletic and convention floor," said Keith Thompson of Koch Hazard as he reviewed possible floor plans for the community center. Those plans include three basketball courts with curtains that could divide them. The court space is envisioned to double as an event/convention space. The design includes bleachers, women's and men's changing rooms, a concession stand, restrooms, a large classroom, a smaller conference room and office and storage space.
People attending Monday night's meeting learned of several areas that, despite the ICAP'S efforts, would need the attention of a citizens' committee. For example, while several possible sites for the community center have been identified within the city by ICAP, no final decision has been made and no specific places where the center might be constructed were singled out Monday night.
The ICAP group vetted dozens of possible sites in and around Vermillion. Twelve sites were selected for further study, using a matrix of 13 weighted criteria to objectively score each one. A top tier of six sites emerged, though one location north of the highway was eliminated due to access and safety concerns. Three additional sites -- VCDC land north of Hy-Vee, the Clay County Fairgrounds and land around the Roosevelt Street extension -- were added after new information became available, but not formally scored by the group.
Five sites have been identified as the most promising options. Several of the sites are privately owned and not listed for sale, so some assumptions were made regarding relative acquisition cost. Several sites with existing buildings were considered, but none were included on the final list due to various limitations.
"We just looked at a generic layout, test-fit to understand roughly how many acres we want," Thompson said, "We need a minimum of about a five acre site to allow this initial facility and enough parking."
He added that the facility's design will allow a building expansion in the future, if needed, and that will need to be taken into account during the site selection process.
Data that was gathered by Koch Hazard and shared with meeting participants Monday night included the results of several community surveys and an analysis of community centers that currently operate in cities with comparable and larger populations than Vermillion.
The information also includes an executive summary which in a nutshell describes the estimated cost, the funding sources for its construction and operation, the design features, the likely uses of the community center and its overall benefit to the community.
"We find that the city of Vermillion can support a community center of approximately 48,000 square feet at a construction cost of approximately $7.5 million," states the feasibility study. "The location is not determined, pending further investigation of actual acquisition cost. The facility should offer a large flat floor space for multiple athletic and event uses, along with several classroom-size flexible rooms and support space,"
The executive summary of the feasibility study states:
• A facility of this size brings Vermillion in line with national averages and peer communities in South Dakota and the tristate region.
• The demand for athletic space for youth practice, adult leagues and other recreational use exceeds available facilities, both public and private.
• An indoor walking track with daily availability and additional basic fitness space are not currently available.
• A flat floor area sized for three multi-sport courts neatly aligns with a perimeter 1/8-mile walking track. Availability of three courts allows hosting of regional tournaments for basketball, volleyball and similar events.
• The demand for large-group event space exceeds available facilities, and there are no suitable spaces for groups larger than 300 people. Each court-sized floor area could accommodate 350 people, with the full floor area seating up to 1,050 guests.
• A teen center does not currently exist, but there is a continuing expressed need for healthy, educational activity space for teens.
• A facility with multiple-use spaces will serve the most possible citizens and taxpayers.
• The facility can be planned for possible future additions of commercial kitchen space, black box theater space, and indoor aquatics.
• Funding can be achieved through a combination of bonding, tax revenue, a community appeal through the chamber of commerce, naming rights and other private fundraising, and grants.
• Operations can be funded through shared staffing, memberships, event revenue, sponsorships, and ongoing philanthropic support. A new community center will add a key amenity to enhance quality of life for all Vermillion residents and attract new families and businesses to the area. A facility that falls in the mid-range of construction cost will demonstrate stewardship of public and private funding while providing space that is flexible, durable, easy to maintain and cost effective to operate. The proposed structure will serve the growing community for the next 20-plus years.
Fairholm noted that after members of the community were surveyed, a community public meeting was held in the winter of 2018 in the Commons of Vermillion High School to discuss the survey results.
"We then divided the folks who showed up at that meeting into four different groups to tackle these types of options," he said. They brainstormed on the design of the center, where it may be located, how it may be paid for, and how it may be utilized by the community.
"All of that was taken into account and included in the preparation of the facility study," Fairholm said. The information presented to those at Monday's meeting was completed in March 2018 but not revealed publicly until this week.
"We hope that as we share with you and as you continue to share with the community the findings, making this more publicly available, that it will generate some ideas about making decisions about what to do with this project and how to implement those decisions," he said
The issuance of bonds approved by a public vote will likely be the main source of funding to pay for the construction of the community center.
In its discussion of how to fund this project, the facility study states, "Based on a survey of recently published sponsorship deals, naming rights average around 20 percent of the total construction cost. For a smaller community like Vermillion, we conservatively estimate about 10 percent of the cost can be funded through up-front sponsorships.
A chamber of commerce appeal is a tool used in many communities to consolidate and simplify business solicitation. The annual effort raises $2 to $3 million for two projects in a larger city like Sioux Falls; that has been scaled down for Vermillion. Private fundraising can be quickly swayed by one large donor, making projections difficult, so the amount listed is an educated guess only.
It is likely that the largest single source of funding will be through a bond election. The school district is currently reviewing their facility needs, which may also lead to a bond election. It is recommended that these efforts be combined to increase likely success of a single public vote."
The study listed possible ways to obtain the estimated $7.5 million needed to construct the facility. The sale of bonds would provide $3 million, and another $1 million would come from sales tax revenue. Chamber/business appeal would provide $400,000, with $250,000 coming from private fundraising and $750,000 provided by naming rights and other sponsorship. Grants would provide $100,000 and the remaining $2 million would come from conventional debt.
The study notes that the final mix of funding services will certainly vary from this draft and that these figures and funding sources are intended as a starting point for further community discussion.
Similar facilities in other South Dakota communities, according to the study, are "operated privately, in partnership with school district or university staff, and by city or governmental staff. The facilities with enduring success typically have at least some involvement of the city of township and that is recommended for Vermillion," with the city parks department as the most appropriate entity to lead operation of a new community center.
"The feasibility study is to suggest what could be done for how much," Fairholm said. "Final decisions about how to do it and implement this really have to be a concerted community effort. Decisions about funding, specifically, really have to be considered once the decision is made to push forward with this and commit to it community-wise."
He noted, when answering a question about the facility's projected overall use that important factors "are how it's built and how it's funded and the open design. I will say this, that the community center as designed, one, is conceptual and two, is pretty much the sense of what the majority of the folks in town think is necessary. There is no reason why pickle ball is not for adults as basketball is for younger folks.
"A multi-use floor is multi-use, and curtains dividing it up bring flexibility for a variety of activities for a variety of age ranges," Fairholm said. "I think it's a pretty flexible design."
Near the end of the meeting, he was asked about the project's timeline and the next practical step in the project.
Fairholm noted that none of the entities involved in the planning, including the city, county and school district, are able to move ahead on their own.
"The thought is that a community group will be established similar to one that helped create the city hall or other major projects in town and they would do the work of hashing out the details," he said.
"Because ICAP is made up of representatives of those entities I mentioned, they're not unfamiliar with it so when they're asked to provide input, they're up to speed already. A task force or community group would have an easy time accessing their resources and expertise."
Fairholm noted that ICAP presented the feasibility study to the community and the question that follows is "will the community take it and do something with it?"
Monday's meeting concluded with a consensus from the audience to create a citizens' committee to implement the information of the feasible study toward constructing the new center. One audience member noted that the county recently advertised for people asking for people to submit applications to serve on a building study committee. He suggested that ICAP do the same and the audience agreed.