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OUR VIEW: Don’t wait to plan for rec center

The city-owned Recreation Center is in need of a facelift or replacement, according to Mayor Ken Tracy, and now is a good time to consider what to do about it.

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We say “yes” and “yes.”

However, we also know that now isn’t necessarily the time to be digging into the city wallet. Considering the number of projects that are under way, or may soon be starting, it probably would be best to hold off before much more money is spent.

Saturday, we reported that the city’s debt this year is $3.2 million higher than last year. Not to worry — the city is still in sound financial shape. It’s just that we’ve gained a bit more debt due to some ambitious projects, and too much more debt might become burdensome.

The city’s total debt, minus interest, is projected to be $37.73 million at the end of 2013. New projects on the table include the new sheet of ice at the Mitchell Activities Center, the expansion/renovation of the Corn Palace, the renovation of the local public library, and the construction of a new city hall, along with older projects that are still being paid off.

Because of these projects, the city’s borrowing capacity may be limited in the short-term.

No matter. We say move forward with Recreation Center planning, and then hold on to those plans until some debt is paid off or until some other funding becomes available.

One idea brought before the City Council is to spend $25,000 to hire a consultant, who could investigate options for a Recreation Center project. Avera Queen of Peace Hospital is interested in taking part in the project and has offered to help pay for the consultant.

We think it’s wise to take the hospital up on this offer.

The city can afford the consultant, and especially if the cost is split with a private entity.

In these coming years, the city could be considering how to pay for the project. If it moves forward with an actual plan, the next few years could be spent securing land (if a new site is necessary) and working out kinks in the design.

Mitchell needs a better Recreation Center. The one we have is aging and cramped, lacks an adequately sized indoor pool, and does not compare well to similar wellness-type facilities in other cities of Mitchell’s size. We’re just not convinced that now is the right time, considering the other projects that are being considered or are being constructed.

But there’s nothing wrong with planning. Many times on this page, we’ve longed for long-range planning, and that’s just what this is.

And if Avera Queen of Peace and possibly Dakota Wesleyan University help foot the bill, this sounds like a project that could feature a big reward for Mitchell at a discount price.

Go ahead and hire the consultant. The city should take the time needed to get it right, and then dive in headfirst when the time — and the city’s financial situation — is right.