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Published June 18 2012

West Fargo commission endorses study of aquatic center

WEST FARGO – City leaders here unanimously voted to move forward with a feasibility study this summer that will determine scenarios for a community and aquatic center here.

City commissioners were pleased to see the proposal moving forward, but they said Monday they especially want to know how such a center would be paid for, both in terms of initial construction and ongoing maintenance.

Officials have suggested such a facility could be funded through a mix of private fundraising, contributions from the park and school districts and asking city voters to approve a half-cent sales tax.

Operational costs could possibly be covered from various rental, lease and user fees – but the impending feasibility study will gauge how successful or practical those funding sources will be.

“I just think we need some assurances along the line that we won’t be left out in the cold,” West Fargo Mayor Rich Mattern said, implicitly referring to Fargo’s Scheels Arena as an example.

Scheels Arena, which opened in 2009, was funded through a controversial mix of private and public funding. The facility’s operators now face millions in debt because the building’s income doesn’t cover its operating costs.

“I just don’t want us to get at that point where we’re looking at the same thing as some of the other places that have had some problems,” Mattern said.

West Fargo residents have long clamored for a community and aquatic facility that could meet the recreational demands of a booming population.

The feasibility study, estimated at $60,000, will be a joint effort between the city, park district and school district.

The West Fargo School Board is due to vote on approving the study at its meeting next week. The park board already approved going ahead with the study.

If approved, results of the study would likely come back in September.

Initial construction costs for the facility are estimated at between $16 million and $22.4 million, depending on the features of the center.

The feasibility study should pin down the cost, location and features of the desired facility, as well as more specific funding sources.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541