The Decorah Parks and Recreation Board is taking “due diligence,” as it considers pursuing a community center project for the city.

The Board discussed the topic during its meeting Thursday night.

In December, the architectural firm Design Alliance of Waukee proposed the facility, estimated to cost $9.5 million, be built on city property where recycling bins and a softball diamond are now located off Claiborne Drive, west of the new tennis courts. The proposed center would include a large gymnasium that could be divided into multiple courts, a track, meeting rooms, multi-purpose rooms and the city’s Park-Rec offices.

Design Alliance was hired in July for $14,500 to help the Park-Rec Board through the process of determining community needs for a recreation and wellness center, then designing a community center to meet them.

“We’re looking at the proposal and how do we lower that cost and if we get to that point, how do we run it? That was the main focus of our work session,” said Decorah Parks and Recreation Director Andy Nimrod.

“The easy way is to charge people, but it’s hard to know what our user group is. We know we have to have $200,000 to $300,000 per year to break even – that may come through memberships, but are there other ways of supporting it so we can keep membership fees low?”

Nimrod said he doesn’t think Board members will be comfortable moving forward until they know the facility would be “affordable to all.”

He said building a community center would most likely involve passage of a bond issue. If residents have to pay higher taxes to pay for a facility, memberships should be reasonable, he said.

Another part of Thursday night’s discussion centered on what fundraising efforts would be geared toward, according to Nimrod.

“Do you fundraise to reduce the initial cost or fundraise to reduce the operating costs to insure that you have some longevity so you’re not operating in the red?”

The Decorah School District could potentially be a partner in a community center project, although District officials have not been formally approached about it, Nimrod said.

“It might be a good fit from our end … they (the school district) know we have a project we want to move forward and they (school district) have needs they are trying to address,” he said.

At some point, Nimrod said public input on a community center would be critical.

“But we have to be ready at that point, and we can’t seem to get ready. We have to find something  the Board is comfortable pursuing,” he said. 

“There is no doubt the community as a whole supports having a community center, but there is doubt on whether we can afford it and more doubt if we can operate it once it’s built.”