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City to make offer on old school

The former Waupaca Accelerated Learning Center will become a Health and Fitness Headquarters site under a proposal presented to the city of Waupaca.

“It seems to be the only way the city can get the building, because they have the right of first refusal on the building, but there is an offer in,” said Rick Johnson, who owns Health and Fitness Headquarters.

The Waupaca Common Council voted Tuesday, May 7, to exercise the city’s right of first refusal on the building following a discussion in closed session about the private donation that would make the city’s purchase possible

Plans call for Johnson to provide the city the funds it needs – about $235,000 – to purchase the building from the Waupaca School District. Johnson will then lease the building from the city.

District Administrator David Poeschl said Monday, May 13, the district expects to receive the offer from the city by the end of this week.

The empty school building is located next to the city’s Recreation Center and was put on the market several months ago.

On March 20, Steve Shambeau, president of the Waupaca School Board, signed an offer for the purchase of the building.

The building and fact there was an offer on it were discussed during the April 16 meeting of the Waupaca Common Council. The Parks and Recreation Department was directed to work on whether that offer could be matched.

Two weeks ago, Johnson approached Parks and Recreation Director Aaron Jenson.

“Rick came to us with a proposal to donate all the money to the city so the city can purchase the building,” Jenson said.

In addition to donating the funds to purchase it, the proposal includes Johnson paying the city $3,000 per month to lease the building for a term of five years, with the option to revisit the lease at the end of that term.

Johnson will cover the cost of remodeling the interior of the building for the fitness center and will pay the city $1,000 per month for a period of two years, with those funds designated for any exterior maintenance costs.

He will pay the city an additional $1,000 per month for that same two-year period, with those funds to be used at the discretion of the Parks and Recreation Department.

His hope is the department uses those dollars to emphasize programming for teens and senior citizens.

“We will be emphasizing that at this site,” Johnson said of those two age groups.

Health and Fitness Headquarters has two sites: one on State Highway 22, across from Waupaca High School, and one within the Best Western Grand Seasons Hotel.

Johnson said many senior citizens go to the site at the hotel, and children as young as 10 may use that site, when accompanied by their parents.

Noting many seniors citizens exercise at the fitness center in the morning and then go to the Waupaca Senior Center, located in the lower level of the recreation center, Johnson sees relocating some equipment to the School Street building as an appropriate move.

In addition, the proposed new site on School Street is also a good fit for the youth already going to the recreation center, he said.

Plans call for the equipment in the “Express Workout” at the hotel site to be moved to the School Street site.

“That set is popular with the seniors,” he said.

Johnson said the Fitness on Request program will also be relocated to the School Street site.

“We will have to do quite a bit of work inside,” he said, including the addition of showers. “Those in particular and then some equipment for the teens to use under adult supervision.”

Johnson said this will open up more space at the hotel site.

Long term, Health and Fitness Headquarters will scale back at the Grand Seasons as it renovates and dedicates more equipment to the downtown site, he said.

“At the hotel, we rent from an out-of-state private party as opposed to downtown where we will partner with a lessor whose interest, like ours, is the betterment of our 3,000-plus members. At the School Street location, with the city as a partner, we will do the building upgrades with confidence in the future,” Johnson said.

He said they had been looking at commercial properties to expand their space but had not looked at the School Street building when the district put it on the market.

“We’ve been looking for something. We looked at some other properties and realized everything came together. Park and Rec was asked to look at it. We put something together,” Johnson said. “It will make for a neat set up for the community. I think it all gelled. Our needs and the city’s needs all came together at the same time.”

He enjoyed working with Jenson on the proposal and looks forward to working with him in the future.

“Park and Rec, as well as the city, is very grateful for the unbelievable donation,” Jenson said. “As far as the health center, we look at it as a big positive. I think there is a lot of collaboration we can do.”

Johnson, too, sees it as a good fit.

“We’re pretty excited about it. It’s just a chance for me to give back to my friends and neighbors,” he said.

Johnson wants Health and Fitness Headquarters to move into the site as soon as possible.

However, the property first has to be rezoned to a business district to accommodate the sale.

That is because the property is currently zoned single-family residential, and schools are a conditional, or special use, within that zoning district.

That process began before the city’s Plan Commission on May 8.

There were public hearings on the rezoning of both the school district property and also on the recreation center property.

While the city does not expect to change the use of its property, the rezoning is recommended for the site, too, as part of the future preferred plan use for that area.

The school district’s building has been used in different ways through the years.

At one time, the building was used for shop classes. That was until there was a fire in the boiler around 2000, after which the building was remodeled.

It was a maintenance building and then became the school district’s alternative learning center.

Poeschl said that program was moved to the high school following the fire in November of 2011 in the old Central I building, which has since been torn down.

The fire disrupted the Internet connection to the WALC, so students could not access their programming from the WALC building, he said.

A move had been considered prior to the fire, but the fire was then the catalyst for the move, Poeschl said.

As the WALC program evolved, more and more students were programmed into the WALC for part of the day and then the high school for the other part of the day, he said.

Poeschl said with capacity for the program at the high school, it did not make sense to have those kids either transported back and forth, or driving themselves back and forth, during the school day.

“We were able to replicate the environment of the former WALC into the space at the high school, leaving those students with a similar sense of ‘separation’ from the traditional high school environment for at least part of the day,” he said. “It has been successful and I don’t see us needing to separate those two programs to different buildings any longer.”

The district does not intend to re-purpose the former WALC building, so it seemed appropriate to try to sell the building instead of continuing to heat and maintain the space, Poeschl said.

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