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New drawings show a facility that could be

Middle school, wellness center studies merge


A conceptual drawing by NAC Architecture of the back side of an aquatic center added on to the old middle school. The windows face out toward the athletic field.

A set of conceptual drawings that could significantly affect the quality of life in the area were delivered to the park board last week.

The renderings, intended to form a basis for planning a new community center, were commissioned by the Coulee Area Park and Recreation District, which had obtained a grant from Grant County's Strategic Infrastructure Program to get architectural help envisioning what a new "wellness center" might look like.

NAC Architects of Spokane did the work.

District Chair Bob Valen said he was pleased with the work. "I hope these things will help us ... with whatever we need to get this built," he said.

The park district had asked the firm to consider two different possible sites for the facility: one as a new attachment to the old middle school, the other on property across from Coulee Medical Center on SR 174, the road to Bridgeport.

"They actually went back and modified the school design," Valen noted.

The work is the latest progress on a project with its roots in a 2009 cross section of community members who met during a "Horizons" grant-funded program to come up with ways to improve the community, and listed many needs that could be met in a community center.

The new drawings also come at a critical point in the work of a chamber of commerce economic development committee working on new uses for the old middle school, calling the effort "Vision 2020."

"We're looking five years out at possibly some very major changes happening," Debbie Starkey told chamber members at a luncheon last week.

Starkey, working on the chamber committee, last year took on leading a subcommittee to help the Grand Coulee Dam School District figure out what to do with two schools about to be replaced by the new Lake Roosevelt Schools complex.

The district is now in the process of selling Center School. And the group hosted a "summit" in March, inviting several agencies in to tour the middle school and offer ideas and support for new uses for the 90,000-square-foot facility. A public open house and tour was also held last month to invite community members in to express their preferences and ideas.

Many ideas cross over lines that might otherwise separate a wellness center from a building used for educational and business purposes.

"We're at the stage where we're going to want the public's input on, do we build a wellness center and use the school for something else, (or) keep everything contained in one space?" said Starkey, a financial advisor at Investment Services NorthWest in Grand Coulee and board secretary of the Grand Coulee Dam Area Chamber of Commerce.

An independent feasibility study in 2012 discouraged using the middle school for a wellness center because of the greater expense likely in refurbishing old infrastructure. But possibilities emerging since then also point to possible revenue streams from adult education and business uses, making the choice less clear. The hospital is currently renting space in the old school for training and is exploring the idea of a small employee fitness center there, for which employees would pay to belong.

"There's still lots, lots to be determined in all of this," Starkey said.

A site along the highway across from Coulee Medical Center would allow for an all-new facility. The land was purchased by CMC for that purpose.

The feasibility study found that a wellness center, with an indoor swimming facility as a central feature, could support itself and add about 17 good jobs to the local economy. Funding the construction of it would be a separate question.

Insights on that question may come this week, as the chamber committee and Coulee Medical Center officials meet with a company that finances such projects, as long as a hospital plays a significant role in it.

Healthplex Associates, Inc., has scheduled a meeting with CMC and the group for Thursday.

The chamber group is also working on a website that will display information about the merging economic development efforts. That work in progress currently includes the complete set of architectural drawings for the two wellness center sites, links to the feasibility study and more.

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