Fort Dodge Community REC: Hopes for the Warden

Pool, Coliseum remain popular

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter Instructor Kaila Blomberg, right, instructs Amber Harman in one of the moves in this multi-part workout at the REC Coliseum Tuesday class.

Still seeking a new location, the Fort Dodge Community REC is thinking outside the box.

Plans are in the works that would see a new recreation center downtown as part of the renovated Warden Plaza.

While the 103-year-old Warden itself would primarily become new apartment housing, attached to the site would also be a new REC and a cultural center, said Randy Kuhlman, president of the REC board of directors.

“This comprehensive project is extremely unique,” Kuhlman said. “We are not aware of any community or city of any size in the United States that will have a project similar to this, that’s incorporating the restoration of a historic building into a housing development project combined with a recreation/fitness center and also combined with a cultural center for our community.”

Initially the board had made plans for a standalone REC building, he said. But things all came together when the city of Fort Dodge began looking in earnest into renovating the Warden.

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter Liz Raasch steps up and down during one portion of a workout while others run or swing weights at the Tuesday class at the REC Coliseum.

“I think part of it is because of the timing of things,” said Kuhlman. “We were in the serious, final stages of planning for a new rec center while at the same time the city was doing serious planning related to the Warden building.”

Zach Mannheimer, the Johnson-based consultant hired to help create a plan for the Warden, came up with this unusual plan to meet multiple needs at once in the community, Kuhlman said.

“Number one — having high-quality rental units available for people is in very short supply here, so the Warden building restoration project will address that high-quality rental shortage,” he said.

“On the rec center side, our current facility is 55 years old, and needs to be replaced. At the same time the arts and cultural community in Fort Dodge is clamoring for some venues and facilities that will offer them a wide range of arts and entertainment opportunities for the community. The timing of it is that all three came together at the same time.”

Kuhlman said the developers, KDG LLC of Columbia, Missouri, are excited about the concept.

“They definitely see it as a culture changing project for downtown Fort Dodge,” Kuhlman said.

The parties involved hope to have a detailed plan by the first of April, showing if the project is feasible and how much it would cost.

“If we have a defined plan by the first of April, we hope within a year we will be in a position to break ground on a new rec center,” Kuhlman said.

Between fundraising campaigns and multiple grants, it will probably be a 12-month process to develop the capital needed, he said.

“A project like this involves grants, historic tax credits, new market tax credits, different kinds of grants that all have to be applied for at certain times of the year.”

REC Executive Director Dave Pearson and Assistant Director Matt Hanson are not on the planning committee, but have been involved discussing the Warden option, what would need to go in it, and how it might be laid out.

“When we meet with them we talk about the needs of, what needs to go inside the facility,” Pearson said.

In the meantime, the existing four REC locations are keeping busy.

One thing going on is the Tuesday and Thursday classes at the REC Coliseum, taught by Kaila Blomberg, Pearson said, in addition to the multi-level classes on other weekdays.

“If they’re not comfortable getting in the beginner section of the Coliseum workouts, this is more private,” he said. “Kind of an introductory of what the Coliseum looks like.”

The workouts mix cardio and strength training, Blomberg said, and the group has grown close.

“She’s created a lot of camaraderie in the workouts,” Pearson said. “It keeps people feeling more accountable.”

“It helps keep people motivated,” Blomberg added.

Hanson also has plans for the Coliseum inspired by the Ninja Warrior series.

“We’re looking to add a couple obstacles from the show,” Hanson said. “They have a few pieces you can build and put up.

“People can come down to the Coliseum and try them out during our open gym time.”

“If it goes over well, I know Matt has larger plans to add more,” Pearson said. “We want to grow it as demand keeps increasing.”

The Coliseum will again host gladiator games in February, as part of the Iowa Winter Games.

“Along with that I’ve started offering additional strength classes at the Coliseum,” Hanson said.

The classes help prepare for the Gladiator Games and other kinds of competitions.

“It teaches them the criteria as to what counts as reps, what is going to be necessary to compete, and know you’re doing the movements correctly and all the movements are going to count,” Hanson said.

The REC also offers family days with special activities with its pool, including inflatables, hoops and games.

“It’s kind of new, we’ve kind of reinvented it,” Pearson said.


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