Community Center Conceptual Designs Win Praise, But Additional Public Comment Sought

View of the proposed new Community Center, from the lake side

Effort to gain vote of confidence for the design delayed until next council meeting September 6

Preliminary conceptual drawings of the new Oconomowoc Community Center unveiled Tuesday night at the Common Council meeting drew an initial very favorable response.

The building, which will replace the demolished Quonset-Hut style building that used to sit on Wisconsin Avenue west of City Beach and City Park, has a projected $7.5 million price tag. A big chunk of the needed dollars–coming from a Emergency Assistance Program Federal Grant administered by Waukesha County–is already in hand.

On Tuesday evening, Parks, Recreation and Forestry Recreation Director John Kelliher said he was looking for an initial reaction to the architect’s conceptual design, and despite the council’s decision to delay a vote of confidence in those designs, it appears the council, including Mayor Jim Daley, like what they saw.

The delay in giving Kelliher the go-ahead to finalize the designs came after several alderman said they wanted to give the public an opportunity to review the plans and provide feedback, not because they objected to what they saw.

An ancillary issue—parking and a potential overpass that would keep users of the center from having to cross Wisconsin Avenue to get to the new facility, did cause some concern. See separate article.

Daley who stepped down as the meeting’s presiding officer to make his comments in support of a confidence vote, said that facility would be a “unique, signature addition to the city.” His comments were echoed by District 2 Alderman Rich Allen. District 1 Alderman Jay Larsen also said he liked what he saw.

District 4 Alderman David Nold, who said he would probably vote for the motion to provide the council’s blessing if it were forced to vote on Tuesday evening, said he wanted to delay voting on the motion until the council had received more public comment.

This prompted Daley and Allen to remind their colleagues that the council was not voting to approve the project or to spend any dollars on Tuesday evening. Instead, Daley and Allen said that Kellliher and the committee that worked with the architect to develop the conceptual drawings only wanted to know if the council supported the concept that was presented.

Both reminded the council that in the future they would be given many opportunities to vote on different aspects of the project including its final approval.

Allen, who called the conceptual renderings “spectacular,” said “it is important that the council show strong support for this.” He also said that a vote on Tuesday “did not take the public out of the discussion,” and that members of the community would have numerous opportunities in the future for public comment.

Nold, noting that he and the other alderman were seeing the drawings for the first time on Tuesday night, asked if the vote of support couldn’t be delayed two weeks until the next council meeting on September 6.

While agreeing that the council could delay the vote, Daley said he felt there was no need for a delay and that he was concerned that the city was developing a reputation for not moving ahead aggressively on projects that are consistent with the city’s plans to revitalize the downtown area.

Alderman Cathleen Slattery agreed with Nold, saying she too was uncomfortable being asked for a vote of support given that she, like the other aldermen, was seeing the drawings for the first time.

Like Nold, Slattery has concerns about the cost of the passageway and the creation of additional parking spaces on the south side of Wisconsin  Avenue. Slattery apparently felt that the existing parking, while scattered, was adequate, commenting, “the city needs to walk more than it does.”

The preliminary architectural designs reveal a three-level approximately 20,000 square foot facility that would feature enough glass large glass windows to provide views–”transparency”– through the building from its Wisconsin Avenue side to Lac La Belle, plus, at the back of the building, spectacular views of the lake from all three levels. The bottom level provides walk-out access to the beach, a concession area, public bathrooms and a patio. A conceptual drawing of the center from the lake side is above.

As before, the center will house Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department offices and staff, but the design clearly favors the building’s use as a community center for a wide range of uses, some of which will generate rental income. For example, the entire back portion of the top floor can accommodate large gatherings such as wedding receptions or sit-down dinner meetings. Kelliher said that the facility, as presented conceived, would accommodate a sit-down dinning of up to 300 people.

With its expansive windows over-looking the lake, Kelliher says the center, when completed next fall, will rapidly become a popular designation for everything from workshops and seminars, to civic and community group meetings, to banquets and weddings. The space also includes a warm-up kitchen for catered events and a bar area, and can be portioned off into three sections when needed.

Using guidance from a planning committee headed by Kelliher and Dennis Bednarski, the city’s utilities director, the exterior design mimics the architectural style of some of stately homes that once dotted the sides of the city’s lakes.

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