McGregor residents share ideas for community center

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Joan Burns (left), Dan Bickel, Lynette Sander and Rogeta Halvorson consider several exterior options for the community center during an input session last week. (Photos by Audrey Posten)

Michael LeClere (center), with Martin Gardner Architecture, discusses several possible functions the community center could have with Jason Echard and Michelle Pettit.

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

Open and welcoming. Multi-functional. New, yet invoking McGregor’s history. Those are just a few of the ideas McGregor residents said they’d like to see incorporated into a community center.

They shared those thoughts last week, at an input session with Bethany Jordan and Michael LeClere, from Martin Gardner Architecture, who have been tasked with developing conceptual designs for the building. 

The conceptual designs will be created thanks to a grant the city of McGregor received from The Native Fund, a nonprofit created by football player Dallas Clark and actor Ashton Kutcher.

“We focus on community design,” LeClere told attendees. “We take your input and weave it into a web, into something that will last in your community.”

“There are lots of options on what the building can look like,” added Jordan, who’s a Marquette native. “We’re not here to propose a certain style or approach, but to explain the guidelines and inform people.”

The proposed structure would be built on the lot adjacent to the McGregor Public Library. This lot was donated to the city by Fred Petrie and Melanie SanFillippo after their building, which most recently housed INKspiration Tattoo, was destroyed in the July 19 tornado.

Jordan said there’s a practice called reconstruction, where a building is re-built exactly as it was. However, that can be difficult and expensive to do, she noted, and didn’t suggest it in this situation.

“A better way would be to use the previous building as inspiration and carry that through the new building,” she shared. “For example, you could use a similar color brick.”

LeClere likened McGregor’s architecture to following a timeline. The cityscape shows how people and technology have changed over time. When creating this new building, he said it’s important to respect those stylistic changes.

You don’t want to completely copy it, though, creating a false sense of history, Jordan commented.

“You don’t want the building to look old. You want it to be complementary,” she said. In other words, it should look different, but not stand out too much.

Part of the community center project could include an expansion of the next door library, whose “collections, services and operations are limited by the existing building,” according to a recent needs assessment. “A combined use addition to the library for a large program room as well as space for the library’s other needs would be a ‘win-win.’”

Many in the audience wondered how the community center would architecturally tie into the library building. As library director Michelle Pettit noted, it has a different history, having been constructed 55 years ago instead of 100-plus.

“It’s a beautiful example of mid-century modern,” Jordan said of the library. “We want to be sensitive in the way we interact with it and connect it, so you don’t detract from the features of the building.”

Jordan said the library would likely be connected to the community center through a relatively small opening, in order to minimize disturbance of the stack space.

The new building will be two or three stories tall, Jordan said, depending on the functions the community would like it to perform. Each level will have a potential 5,000 square feet of space.

During the meeting, attendees went through two different sessions. At one, they viewed a series of images depicting potential functions for the building, as well as space and seating options, marking their favorites with a sticker.

Some of the more popular functions included a kitchen area, theater/performing arts space and room for fitness or dance classes. 

People said there are already several mid-size meeting spaces, such as the library or city hall, available for group use, but felt some quieter, more individual spaces may be needed. They also cited a need for a large meeting space or room that can serve as convention space.

LeClere suggested looking at movable walls, so space size can be adjusted depending on the use.

Mobile seating would also be helpful, he added.

“Flexibility is key,” LeClere said. “The goal is to interconnect functions and be creative with your ideas.”

“We envision every space as multi-purpose,” agreed Jordan, “flexible enough that you can have a baby shower, fitness space and dance recital. It can accommodate space to fit all that.”

One participant even brought up the idea of making part of the building private, potentially for a business incubator space, in order to generate revenue or self-support the building.

In addition to the interior, attendees also gave their thoughts on potential building facades, showing a preference for more classic, rather than modern, styles. They also want the building to be inviting, with plenty of windows.

“You have to pay attention to how a building gestures toward the street,” how it invites people inside, LeClere said.

But amid the flow of ideas, participants also noted the importance of keeping McGregor’s other projects in mind, so as not to overlap funding sources or potential uses.

The most notable example, said councilwoman Rogeta Halvorson, is the Sullivan Opera House (old hardware store).

Resident Joan Burns agreed: “People are pouring their heart and soul into that opera house, and you don’t want them to be disheartened. It should be a complementary effect.”

Burns also stressed the importance of continuing to gather input.

Due to the grant requirements, Jordan said there’s a push to complete the initial design—exterior renderings and schematic floor plans—by March 1. However, that will, by no means, be the final product, she quipped.

“This is conceptual. It will evolve,” she said.

“Once you get the intent shown,” added LeClere, “it’s easy to put on paper, put in a window or at a coffee shop and have people comment. It’s easier to refine that way. It’s a living document.”

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