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$23M of Dickinson recreation improvements set to be completed next summer

Press Photo by Dustin Monke Dickinson Parks and Recreation Director James Kramer stands near the West River Community Center on Wednesday where Mortenson Construction workers are in the process of adding four new basketball courts to the facility.1 / 3
Press Photo by Dustin Monke Mortenson Construction works on the new outdoor pool and water park area that will be next to the West River Community Center on Wednesday in Dickinson.2 / 3
Press Photo by Dustin Monke Mortenson Construction workers get trusses ready for installation as part of four new basketball courts for the West River Community Center's expansion on Wednesday in Dickinson.3 / 3

What will $23 million buy these days? In the case of Dickinson Parks and Recreation, it means a major facelift.

From expanded weight training and cardio exercise space at the West River Community Center to a new ice arena and an outdoor pool and water park, Dickinson's decade-old Community Center -- as motorists traveling along State Avenue can easily see these days -- is undergoing a large-scale expansion project expected to be completed by next summer.

"When it's finished, the outdoor pool area is going to be the eye candy as you come in," said Dickinson Parks and Recreation Director James Kramer during a tour of the 48-acre site Wednesday. "By code, we'll be able to fit over 600 people in the outdoor pool area, but, by our standards, we'll probably take it down to about half of that."

Mortenson Construction Senior Project Manager Pat Barnett said about two dozen workers are currently laboring on the project, which has three main phases: expansion of the main Community Center building, construction of a new ice arena practice rink adjacent to the existing Dickinson Recreation Center and the creation of the outdoor pool area, which will feature a lazy river and a slide tower with three water slides.

Though mostly dirt work has been done so far at the site of what will be the new ice arena, the other phases are beginning to take shape. On Sunday, a shipment of steel trusses, which were being put in place on the north side of the WRCC building Wednesday.

Kramer said the current gymnasium area in the WRCC will likely be closed from sometime in January until around April, but the end result will be a weight training area where the basketball courts are now, a new cardio center in the current weights area and a new four-court basketball gym representing the WRCC's expansion to the north.

"We'll have a new control desk by the new basketball courts and where we have the weight room now will be a cardio area," Kramer said. "We will probably double the amount of cardio machines that we have now, but it won't all be just treadmills, we'll have a variety of stuff. Right now, the upper-level track goes around the gym, but that will be expanded and will be about four laps to a mile when it's finished. In addition to the main track, we'll also have an area about 110-feet long for sprinters."

Kramer said the finished indoor track will be one of the longest in the country at a recreation facility and added that the facility's "express locker" capacity will be enhanced, but the actual locker rooms will stay the same.

"Technically, by the drawings, we're expanding capacity but in reality all we're doing is spreading out the people who are already coming here," Kramer said. "We don't envision a large number of people joining just because we're doing this. We just see people not having to wait to get on a treadmill or a piece of weight equipment. Hopefully, they'll be happier with their experience and not go somewhere else."

Kramer said the existing look of the Community Center building will essentially be copied to go along with the general feel of the main building, which was opened in 2004 with the idea that it could be expanded.

"All the finishes and the exterior and the interior, we're doing all we can to match what's here," Kramer said. "When you walk or drive by, we don't want you to think, 'Oh, they added on,' we want it look like it was meant to be from the beginning. After this, we won't have much room for anything. We'll have about eight acres left, but we want to leave that alone as green space."

With close to 7,000 paying members and the new areas going up, the Community Center will likely face challenges finding employees, not unlike many other businesses and facilities in western North Dakota.

"That will certainly be a challenge, there's no question about it," Kramer said. "We'll probably have to hire eight to 12 additional lifeguards, but we think a good recruiting tool will be the fact that they'll get to spend time working outside, which is a big draw for some. This isn't the easiest construction site, it's kind of complicated, but Mortenson has done a terrific job so far. We're all really excited for the finished product."

With the winter months looming, some aspects of the construction process will naturally slow a little, but everything is on track to be finished sometime next summer, said Kramer, who added that the outdoor pool area will be included in any Community Center membership.

"I know our employees are excited about this project and to be working on it," Barnett said. "You can just feel it around here. A lot our workers are members at the center while they work here and they're proud of this project. It's going to be really something."

Kramer said the Community Center will likely have to shut down for about a week this spring in order to move in new equipment and tend to other issues.

"We still have all the things going on that we normally would have, so this is a busy area," Kramer said. "We appreciate everyone's patience and we just ask that people be patient while all of this is going on. We're hoping for a great fall and a better winter as we continue to move forward with this project.

Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
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