Stop, breathe deeply, take a walk in Scout Park, and think about it



Storm Lake has been trying to organize a recreation center since I was a schoolboy some 50 years ago.

Sorry to date Dave Dvergsten, who maintains a youthful smile, but he was in on trying to get a YMCA off the ground. It was housed, as historical cycles would have it, in what is now Edson Hall. It is the music building. Back then it was a vacant Buena Vista gym, Victory Hall, dark and dusty and small. The Beavers played at St. Mary’s gym until the fieldhouse was built in 1969.

Storm Lake tried mightily to occupy Victory Hall to give our town’s families a wholesome and healthy recreation alternative. But the YMCA went under. And so have other attempts at starting a rec center because there has been no way to subsidize it. We have gyms, the Finkbine Natatorium, the lake and private fitness centers. We have not been able to support a one-stop recreation center.

So of course it makes sense that Buena Vista University would suggest strengthening the town-and-gown bond by proposing a joint city-BVU facility. It works in Waverly with Wartburg. It could work for Storm Lake, President Josh Merchant suggests.

The city’s contribution could be a part of Scout Park.

Whoa, Nellie, the neighbors respond.

Let’s just pause right there for a community caution:

A lot of people feel strongly about parks and the lake. Storm Lake takes an immense amount of pride in it. A priceless amount of memories are invested in Scout Park, created from a historic dredging in the 1930s. To think that a racquetball court might rest in what was once glacial lake banks should make you take a breath.

 People can get worked up about this sort of thing pretty quickly, especially in a vacuum of facts.

At this point we should stipulate not to ascribe motives to people that aren’t necessarily there. You hear teeth chipping about Merchant, which should be expected. It’s why he gets a nice house. There are also a lot of people who like the idea of building a rec center in the northeast corner of the park, people of good faith like Dvergsten who see a reasonable opportunity. And there are earnest people who disagree like Hugh Perry and Rob Smith, whose views deserve careful consideration.

Rob Smith has legitimate concerns about parking and traffic. Dog walkers wonder what will happen to the city’s de facto dog park. Old Boy Scouts recall burning flags in a ritual there early on a Saturday morning. You mess with that stuff at your own peril. Perry invokes the memory of the Witter family that donated the land to the city, intending it to be a park.

Some council members are for it. Some are against. Councilman Dan Smith instinctively doesn’t like the idea of chipping away at the parks. But he is always an easy listener. He can listen for a long time before making up his mind. We would do well to adapt his pace. He points out that there will be a city council election in November. That can change everything. Don’t assume anything.

There is no plan in front of us. We don’t even know how big the chunk is. We guessed 30,000 square feet. Rob Smith figures closer to 12,000. The city has not been eager to talk a whole lot about it. That’s understandable, because the city is not really driving the project. We don’t know if BVU has the money in hand. We don’t know what a sliding fee scale would work for needy youth. We have no idea what the building would look like, or how things would fit. Maybe it would be smashing. Maybe it would not befit Witter’s legacy. What are the alternatives? Why can’t existing empty parking areas work? Parking lots aren’t cheap, and Scout Park looks like the key to buying in the city stake.

We just don’t know. That’s what Mayor Mike Porsch is saying, and it is what Dan Smith is saying (after November, he could end up as mayor pro tem). Rob Smith certainly would like to learn more.

Merchant is trying to turn around BVU, which has been languishing for some time. That will upset people. Enrollment is up this year. He has said that he will have crazy ideas that won’t work out. Maybe this is one of them. Merchant also wants to get things done. Perhaps it is a workable idea that could be a credit to Storm Lake and BVU. Until Merchant lays out a proposal, the city has nothing it can approve. There will have to be zoning meetings and public hearings. There will have to be pictures and more public hearings. In the meantime, Buena Vista needs to fill the vacuum with facts. The neighbors and other opponents need to feel that their concerns are being legitimately taken into account. Facts help.

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