hen the Village of Waunakee, Wis., a suburb of Madison, found its young and growing community of 10,000 struggling to find space for senior activities and community-wide recreation, it did not choose to sprawl outward by developing an entirely new site. Instead, community leaders chose to look inward, literally, and demolish and redevelop an existing brownfield, contributing to the revitalization of downtown Waunakee.
The result is the new Waunakee Village Center, a classic example of effective civic planning. The village leaders relied on a combination of public grants, capital borrowing and many partnerships to accomplish its ambitious goal: a beautiful new facility that reflects the entire community.
Five years of painstaking planning, including more than 30 stakeholder meetings and two surveys, led up to a community referendum. The Village communicated extensively with the facility's potential constituents, including Village newsletters, press releases, media interviews, newspaper stories and three public information open houses. The Village also leveraged its Web site and the cable access channel to get the word out.
Eventually, words turned to action, and the Village set its sights on the old "Stokley" site—a former vegetable canning factory constructed in 1924 and closed in 1997. Consisting of nearly 190,000 square feet in 21 different structures on 3.52 acres in three parcels, the abandoned, blighted factory was taking its toll on surrounding property values and residents' safety. The soil and groundwater were contaminated on some parts of the site, and one visiting Wisconsin state legislator who had visited war-ravaged Eastern Europe stated, "This place reminds me of a war zone."
A total of six grants, including three brownfield grants and a DNR water quality improvement grant, contributed $1.225 million toward enabling the village and its partners to acquire, demolish and clean up the site. In addition to the new Village Center, other portions of the site were redeveloped into apartments for senior citizens and a 5-acre water quality basin that helps drain a 447-acre watershed, preventing flooding. In recognition of the village's efforts, the International City Management Association recognized Waunakee officials with a Community Sustainability Award for the success of this site redevelopment.
At the beginning of the design process, the village posed a unique challenge to design firm Barker Rinker Seacat Architecture of Denver: "Create a space as distinctive as the name of our village." The firm took the challenge and looked around the community to incorporate design elements that represent the village's unique character. The nearby Village Park's arched WPA bridges are reflected in the trusses spanning the center's lobby, and the same stonework found in the park's picnic shelter adorns the center.
But you have to look beyond the surface to find how the facility truly reflects its community—to the people participating in all the activities and programs offered there. While the center was originally intended to serve as a new Senior Center, village officials decided early in the process to instead meet as many community needs as possible with a multigenerational facility.
The new facility includes a senior-friendly area offering everything from meal service and social interaction to health screening and fitness programs. The facility also incorporates family-friendly features and programming for all community residents. There are enrichment programs for all ages and interests, and the gymnasium is open for basketball, volleyball, indoor soccer and more. A walking track and fitness center are available to help residents meet their workout goals, and meeting rooms, a computer lab and a reception area round out the facility's offerings.
The facility has performed beyond expectations, according to Sue McDade, community services director. "Our results have been phenomenal," she said. In 2006, the facility over-exceeded its revenue targets and under-spent its allotted expenditures. "I do not have our final numbers (for 2007) yet, but guess that our expenditures will finish the year at about 105 percent," she added. "Our revenues finished 2007 at 159 percent."