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Wadena 2.0 readies for Design Team visit after tornado

A lot of talk about Wadena 2.0 has been going on these days, but not everybody knows what that looks like.

Don Niles, chairman of the Wadena 2.0 steering committee, said that it is all about smart planning to rebuild the city. He emphasized the importance of the upcoming Minnesota Design Team visit to Wadena the weekend of Oct. 28-30.

Niles said that two weeks after the tornado, some community leaders started talking.

"Joel Beiswenger from the hospital, Ann Pate, chair of the school board, and a couple of the county commissioners said, 'We really have an opportunity to collaborate here in rebuilding our city with so much of the public infrastructure destroyed at one time,'" he said.

Unlike the U.S. Highway 10 project, which has been 60 years in the making, he said, Wadena 2.0 was created directly as a result of the tornado. The name, playing on the term Web 2.0, was a phrase coined by Pioneer Journal Editor Steve Schulz, he said.

Wadena 2.0 is separate from the Long-Term Recovery Committee, Niles said. While the latter addresses social service and human needs, the former focuses on public infrastructure.

"It's hard work but it's exciting times," Niles said.

Niles said he called the first meeting in July gauge interest, and 43 people showed up. The steering committee of Wadena 2.0 is made up of 43 stakeholders, Niles said, but anyone can get involved in Wadena 2.0 itself.

"The idea at this point is not to say what anything should look like, that's not what this group is about," Niles said. "It's to say, what are the opportunities and to ask the right questions. So how can we rebuild this? So one of the main things that we have coming up: there's a group called the Minnesota Design Team, it's a group of volunteer architects."

The Minnesota Design Team to visit Oct. 28-31 is an opportunity for the public to get involved, according to Niles.

On Friday, Oct. 29, a community supper and town meeting will encourage "visioning" from community members about aspects of Wadena including specific buildings, parks and recreation.

On Oct. 30, the Design Team will make a presentation at the Wadena Memorial Auditorium at 7 p.m.

The 12-15 volunteer architects will need host families to stay with. Anyone interested in hosting Design Team members may contact school board chair Ann Pate. Niles said they want a variety of incomes and demographics for host families.

"They'll be looking at natural environment, social environment, economic environment, cultural environment, and we'll also be distributing a written survey shortly which will be going out in utility bills and will also be available online," he said.

Niles said that the survey might have incentives and prizes to be determined for people who return the surveys.

"We received a grant of $10,000 from the Initiative Foundation to help fund the planning effort," Niles said.

As far as ideas for rebuilding, nothing is set in stone, Niles said. Some ideas involved the new high school and community center sharing facilities, along with adding an indoor pool, an idea which has been discussed since 2006.

A request for proposals was issued for architects for the new community center. Niles said they received 11 responses, conducted four interviews, and narrowed down to two candidates: Perkins+Will, which was hired by WDC School Systems, and JLG. They will choose one firm by Monday.

Perkins+Will is a Chicago-based firm with an office in Minneapolis and work both inside and outside the United States. The website lists their Minnesota projects including Chanhassen High School, Edina High School, Horizon Middle School in Moorhead, Great River Energy, Andover Community Center YMCA and the New Ulm Civic Center.

JLG Architects is a regional firm founded in Grand Forks, where it has a strong presence, with offices also in Minneapolis, Fargo and Alexandria. Hockey arenas make part of their work portfolio, with the National Hockey Center in St. Cloud, the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks and the "Little Ralph" hockey center in Thief River Falls, Minn. listed on their website. Closer to the Wadena area, Douglas County Hospital in Alexandria and Our Lady of the Lake Church in Battle Lake are also listed as JLG projects.

"Once the architectural firm is selected, they can move forward with the architectural plans for the community center and working with the school's architects to work with physical co-location as well as collaboration and joint use," Niles said.

Other ideas discussed including a library expansion and working with the fairgrounds.

He said that Wadena 2.0 has received very positive feedback and that people are participating in the process.

"We have the opportunity to make this community better, and there was a very high price paid for this opportunity," he said. "The whole purpose of Wadena 2.0 is to give the community an opportunity for input on what they want in facilities and what would be best for the community, what we want the community to look like 30, 40, 50 years into the future."