8-22 sports complex pic 1

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After months of planning and fundraising, Effingham Park District officials finally solidified plans for the Richard E. Workman Sports Complex.

The path to having a sports complex in Effingham actually began decades ago, but it was October of last year that Richard and Angie Workman revived the prospect by donating $5 million for construction of such a facility. Since then, the Workmans have donated an additional $1 million toward the project added to community donations of $3 million, a recent $500,000 contribution from the city and the park district’s ability to issue up to $6.5 million in debt certificates that allowed the district to officially award a bid Thursday from Poettker Construction to construct the complex.

Effingham Park District President David McDevitt said the final price will likely be lower than the $14.6 million estimated for construction after continued fundraising and negotiations with the construction company for reduction in materials and an HVAC system.

After construction bids for the project came in $4 million over budget, McDevitt and others involved with the complex went to the city of Effingham and the Workmans to ask for additional funds for the project. In addition to the city’s $500,000 contribution, the Workmans donated another $1 million toward the project. Without those funds, McDevitt said the project would have been delayed a year.

Relieved to finally move forward with the project, Effingham Park District Director Jeff Althoff said “this is a huge accomplishment for the park district.”

“A lot of people worked really hard to get to where we are,” he added.

One final hurdle involves the park district issuing debt certificates for the project. The issuance of the certificates, financed through local banks, was delayed because the final amount for the project was unknown. Althoff said the park district knows its borrowing power, and they have the ability to get the funds needed for the project. He asserted the debt certificates won’t raise taxes.

“We are thankful and relieved to award this bid,” said McDevitt.

Hank Stephens rejoiced in the moment that has been a goal for the long-time local attorney since the 1970s.

“The idea of a sports complex has been out there since 1976, when I was a third-year law student,” said Stephens.

Stephens, who helped raise money for the current complex, also raised money in the late ‘70s to build an addition to the former Effingham YMCA. Again, in the early 1980s, Stephens said he and others involved with the current project tried to raise money for the YMCA to add an Olympic-size pool.

“I have always thought the missing piece of this community is a sports complex with a pool,” said Stephens.

“I remember selling Christmas trees with Dr. Workman to raise money for the YMCA,” said Stephens, who marveled at Workman’s dedication almost 30 years later with the donation of $6 million for the project.

When then-Mayor Bob Utz, a supporter of a sports complex, was elected in the late 1990s, Stephens sat on the early city councils that again discussed the idea. That culminated in the late 2000s with a nonbinding referendum vote against the complex, which influenced the council to vote down construction of the complex by the city.

“I’ve been waiting for this for 35 years,” said Stephens. “I’ll be even more excited when I see a ribbon-cutting for the project.”

According to Althoff, after approval of the debt certificates at the next park district meeting, park district officials are optimistic to hold a groundbreaking by late September.

Weather permitting, the project would be completed in September of 2015.

Plans for the center include two basketball courts, three full-size volleyball courts, and an aquatic center that will include two pools. In addition to the lap pool, there will be another recreation/therapy pool. Additionally, St. Anthony’s Wellness Center is slated to rent a space within the 60,000-square-foot center to house its physical and occupational therapy services.

A tentative agreement is in place for Get-Fit to locate its equipment, employees and gym memberships in the center, which will be located on a 22-acre property, at 1301 N. Maple St., northwest of the Effingham Kluthe Memorial Pool.

Tony Huffman can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 138, at tony.huffman@effinghamdailynews.com or on Twitter @Ednthuffman.

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