The loan taken out for the construction of the Regional Fitness Center (RFC) on the University of Minnesota Morris campus was officially stamped ‘paid in full’ on January 23. For the last 8 years the Stevens County Economic Improvement Commission (SCEIC) has held the loan which originated in 2002 with the City of Morris. On January 23, RFC director Monique Richardson presented the final payment to SCEIC Director Cheryl Kuhn.
It hasn’t always been smooth going for the RFC. Talks began in 1996 when a group of residents met regularly to discuss the possibility of a new fitness center. This discussion was prompted when the University in Morris was granted funds for the construction of a new Science Building. To make room for the new building the Physical Education Annex needed to be taken down. This was a facility used by students for a variety of activities.
This group eventually presented a proposal to construct the new Regional Fitness Center using the University swimming pool building as the base.This was called the PE Center and has since been changed to Cougar Sports Center. The Regional Fitness Center is the lobby, indoor walking track and fitness room. The bottom level is the gym, locker rooms, and recreation pool. The estimated cost was between $5 and $6 million dollars. The University was able to secure some of the funding and the rest of the funds needed to come from other sources.
The group met with the three other government powers in Morris including the City of Morris, the Morris School District and the Stevens County Commissioners. Each of these entities made contributions and currently have a representative that sits on the RFC Joint Powers Board. This brought the need down to $400,000 for which the City of Morris Economic Development Authority (EDA) issued a loan to the RFC. In 2015 the loan was transferred to SCEIC for management. Construction began in 1999 and was completed in 2000.
When SCEIC took over the loan, RFC directors asked if the loan payments could be changed from monthly to only nine months to coincide with the busier time at the center. The loan was redone with payments made from September through May. In 2016, Cheryl Kuhn became the director at SCEIC and the management of the loan was in her hands. Little did she know but the challenges ahead would be rough.
Enter 2020 and the Covid 19 pandemic. All businesses were mandated to close down on March 17 and allowed to reopen at the end of June. The shut-down was repeated in November and December. The RFC suffered a huge loss of revenue during this time. Richardson and Kuhn worked together to apply for funding to help keep the ‘lights on’ at the center. They were able to get some funds but it was a struggle as the fitness center fell through the cracks of many of the criteria for the loans and grants. To make matters even more difficult University, State, and Federal guidelines had to be met in order to reopen. A grant and zero interest loan were eventually approved through SCEIC’s Community Fund. This fund was started to support Stevens County Businesses impacted by Covid.
Richardson stated that SCEIC was a tremendous help during that time and Kuhn was willing to take steps to help. Kuhn explained that this is what SCEIC is all about. They are still recovering from the effects of Covid on the RFC but business is trending upward.
Moving forward Richardson stated that they will be treading cautiously as they recover from the pandemic. There will be ongoing maintenance at the facility and she is hoping for some expansion in the future. The joint powers board will be looking at the need in the area and figuring out how they can continue to serve the community for people from birth on up.
“We are excited for the future and all that we can offer to our community,” stated Richardson.