WILLISTON, N.D. – Williston is already known as a great place to make money, but community members want to make it a better place to live.
The city held a groundbreaking ceremony Monday to celebrate the start of construction on a $70 million recreation center. The 234,000-square-foot facility will be the largest of its kind in the state.
“It’s really big,” said Jeremy Ludlum, recreation superintendent. “You could put Walmart inside of it.”
The Williston Area Recreation Center, which will be on the Williston State College campus, will feature a water park that is expected to become a regional attraction, as well as a competition swimming and diving pool.
The center will have four indoor tennis courts, four basketball courts, indoor running track, racquetball courts, a golf simulator, 13,000 square feet of indoor turf fieldhouse space, fitness areas and community rooms.
Mayor Ward Koeser said the new center will be a huge step toward attracting more families to Williston as oil industry workers consider making North Dakota their permanent home.
“We realize how critical it is to have a quality of life here that attracts people and helps them to want to stay here,” Koeser said.
Construction is expected to be complete by March of 2014. Architecture firms JLG Architects of Grand Forks and Sink Combs Dethlefs of Denver teamed up to design the facility. The Denver firm has designed sports facilities for 40 years and this is the largest project it has ever worked on, with the next largest being about half the size, said architect Gudmundur Jonsson.
“It’s probably one of the biggest recreation centers in the country,” Jonsson said.
For comparison, the new Choice Health and Fitness that opened last month in Grand Forks is about 160,000 square feet.
Williston residents approved a 1-cent sales tax for the new facility, with half going to the park district and the other half going to the building project. The tax ends in 20 years or when the building is paid off, Ludlum said.
Community members will pay membership fees, but the goal is to keep it affordable, Ludlum said.
“This is something we really need,” Ludlum said. “In my opinion, this is one of the best things that’s ever going to happen to Williston.”
Park Board Commissioner Ken Callahan said the facility will draw people from around the region to use the water park and to attend sporting competitions that Williston will now be able to host.
“This changes Williston,” Callahan said.
Jeni Weiman, a nurse who moved to Williston in May from Madison, Wis., said she’s looking forward to the new center, particularly the pool.
“It will be good for families and it will be good for the college,” Weiman said.
Several other communities in the Oil Patch with growing populations also are working on recreation centers or expanding existing facilities.
Community leaders in Crosby broke ground last week for a new community center that will feature an indoor hockey rink and curling rink, said Mayor Les Bakken.
Dickinson is considering a 24,000-square-foot expansion to the West River Community Center, which is currently 93,000 square feet.
Watford City is constructing the Connie Wold Wellness Center that is expected to be open by the end of the year.
For more schematics of the Williston Area Recreation Center, go to www.willistonparks.com.