By David Slone
WARSAW – A donor has pledged $2.5 million toward the Center Lake Pavilion renovation, Warsaw Mayor Joe Thallemer announced to the Parks and Recreation Board Tuesday.
The name of the donor is not expected to be released until the park board approves a memorandum of understanding with the donor at their next meeting. At their meeting Tuesday, April, 19, the Parks Board approved moving forward with the agreement.
The current estimated cost of the remodel is $3.1 million.
While the architect’s drawing refers to the pavilion with a new name (Central Park Pavilion), future changes in the name – if any –have not been decided, according to Parks Superintendent Larry Plummer.
Before making the announcement of the donation, Thallemer told the Board he brought them good news, but wanted to provide a history of how the pavilion plans have evolved.
In 2018, the Board authorized design work to remodel the pavilion to try to accommodate the Parks offices, which originally were going to be put upstairs in the Pavilion with an elevator and stairs; HVAC changes; opening up the Pavilion, perhaps moving the kitchen to one side to open up the wall facing the lake to add windows; and to increase the size of the meeting space.
“At the time, it was going to spruce up the exterior, but most importantly add the offices and create a more open concept facing and opening up to the lake, back in 2018,” Thallemer said.
As the design evolved, Thallemer said he believed it was the architect’s recommendation that – because of the costs of putting the offices in the Pavilion – that the offices be put into the proposed maintenance facility down at East Fort Wayne and Indiana streets. That would save the city money, and the Board approved that.
Construction on the maintenance and office facility is set to start in June, Thallemer said.
“That kind of left the Pavilion project kind of hanging. We didn’t need the office space and that was a priority for that project at the time,” Thallemer said.
He said they asked the architect for a rough idea of what it would cost without the offices in the pavilion, to just do the improvements that the city had shown. The architect did that, and back in 2018 the estimate to improve the pavilion was about $1.8 million. The pavilion improvement project was put on hold to focus on the maintenance and offices building.
“But the project didn’t really die because we identified a potential donor who was interested in helping us with the pavilion project. That pavilion is an important spot in our community for community gatherings. We saw that during the pandemic,” Thallemer said, noting it was used for COVID testing and vaccinations, as well as the American Red Cross Bloodmobile. The Pavilion also hosts recreational and rental activities.
The importance of the pavilion to the city was conveyed to the donor, as well as some of the proposed improvements.
More cost estimates were done in 2020 as discussions with the donor continued. The project’s costs increased during the pandemic to $2.4 million.
“But we had drawings and updates and that allowed us to continue to have those discussions with the donor,” Thallemer said.
Last fall, the discussions got a “little more serious,” he said. Knowing construction costs were going up, the city wanted to be ready to act and the Parks Board authorized the completion of the construction documents with updated drawings and price.
“That price came in at $3.17 million. That was as a month ago,” Thallemer said. “It sounds like it’s gone up a lot, and it has. This is happening to public and private projects all over. I just heard of a local project that doubled from their engineering estimate.”
The discussions with the donor continued, knowing that costs were going to continue to go up.
“I’m pleased to announce that the city has secured a funding commitment of $2.5 million from a donor to do this project,” Thallemer said to the surprise of the Park Board.
“At this point, the city will be working out final details of that donation and coming up with an MOU. There will be expectations there, on both sides, but having secured that fund, you can be assured of that $3.1 million current estimate, we’ve got $2.5 million pledged specifically for that project,” he said.
When Thallemer brings the MOU to the Parks Board, he said that’s when the donor will be identified, if not before then, but it will be up to the discretion of the donor. He asked the Parks Board for their permission to develop the MOU with the donor.
“The idea here is that, if you’re comfortable with that, now having the bid documents, this project can go out for bid and we can secure a pricing to get this project done, sooner rather than later,” Thallemer said.
After the Parks Board finalizes the MOU, it also will have to be taken to the Board of Public Works and Safety to accept the donation.
Board Vice President Larry Ladd said the donation was “pretty impressive.”
Board member Michelle Boxell said, “That’s quite an achievement to get that significant percentage.”
Thallemer said the city was really excited and the project will be a great improvement for the structure.
“It’s just been an iconic, historical structure that we’re really going to do right,” he said.
Boxell asked how long the Pavilion has been there. Parks Superintendent Larry Plummer said it was built in 1935.
“I understood it was an open shelter at one time, and then it was closed in. I know we remodeled it in 1990, I think it was. We had a bathroom fire that got into the main part of the building and it was remodeled then,” Plummer said.
Ladd said there’s been a lot of emotional attachment to the building in the community.
Ladd made a motion to proceed with the MOU, and Board member Jill Beehler made the second. It was unanimously approved.