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Austin approves designs for $35 million rec center project

October 26, 2017 GMT

AUSTIN — The glowing red sign on top of the city’s municipal power plant will go dark sometime this winter as the building is slated for demolition.

During Monday’s city council session, officials unanimously voted to approve the $35 million recreation center project schematics and signed the official lease agreement between Austin and the YMCA. Now, McGough Construction and BWBR Architects can move ahead with final plans.

The planning phase of the project was adopted by Austin in October 2016 and was overseen by Vision 2020 and the Community Recreation Center Committee. The expenditures created from the project will be fueled by $25 million in pledges made by The Hormel Foundation, $5 million from Hormel Foods Corp. and local fundraising of an additional $5 million in donations, according to previous stories.

“The council approved the first set with expectation if they have strong fundraising, they will advance with the larger design,” said Craig Clark, city administrator. “We are on track for a winter demolition, and the target date is July when the construction folks can take over and begin the building process.”

Currently, the city’s agreement with Austin Utilities, which is responsible for the plant’s demolition, states the site would need to be cleared by July 2018, and the new 10,000-square-foot structure could be finished sometime in fall or early winter 2019.

Mark Nibaur, director of Austin Utilities, said demolition of the plant would begin in late December or early January.

During this process, two designs were submitted for the second-floor space. One was considered less expensive that contains two fitness studios, a wellness center, a family gym, a basketball court and indoor track.

The second, similar design, contains the same but with a third fitness studio and a more spacious wellness center, according to Greg Siems, Vision 2020 director. The council approved the first design but potentially could include additions from the second design depending on cost.

Designs for the first floor include a gym, a community education and event space, leisure and lane pools, as well as a gymnastics area. This floor also would encompass a 5,000-square-foot youth activity area and a 2,000-square-foot children’s indoor play area.

‘Its importance to the community’

Prior to the recreation center project, concerns were raised by residents regarding the destruction of a historic landmark in Austin, according to previous stories.

After going through feasibility studies and analyzing the costs it would take to incorporate the turbine room into the final designs of the new recreation center project, it was determined that utilizing some of the plant would not be possible from a “fiscal and physical standpoint,” Siems said.

“We’re gonna hopefully work with Austin Utilities to preserve some of the certain historic features like dials and gauges from the existing facilities and come up with a historical display that highlights and educates people of the site and its importance to the community.”

Nibaur said the entity removed some of the historical memorabilia and plans to display them at its new facility. AU still is working with the Recreation Center Committee on possible displays at the new recreation center.

“We did remove the neon Austin Municipal Plant sign from the old power plant and re-installed at our new facility, Energy Park,” Nibaur said. “Still working on a date to light the sign back up.

“Being in the utility/electric power business, of course, personally, it would have been nice to maintain the community resource,” Nibaur said. “But, time moves on, and the plant served its purpose for the community of Austin. I am glad some of the history is being preserved and the new site will continue to serve the community.”