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Paynesville Press - November 6, 2002

Assembly Grounds starts building project

By Michael Jacobson

Ground was broken in October and construction started on a new Retreat Lodge at the Lake Koronis Assembly Grounds. The winterized lodge will be 63' by 97' and will have 19 rooms (eight on the first floor and 11 on the second), and will be able to host 38 people.

Lake Koronis Assembly Grounds The United Methodist-owned camp, which occupies 200 acres on the shores of Lake Koronis, was started in 1921, and most of its housing was built at least a half century ago. The Retreat Lodge, at an expected cost of $900,000, is the first new housing to be built at the Assembly Grounds since 1975.

The Lake Koronis Assembly Grounds - founded in the 1920s - now has 7,500 campers visit each year, an increasing percent of those visits are occurring during the fall, winter, and spring.

"You have to bring your housing into the 21st Century," said camp director Rev. Wayne Walther. "It's not the determining factor when you book an event, but it's nice."

The new lodge will be winterized. It will be handicap accessible. It will have private bathrooms. It will have air conditioning, making it better for people with allergies. It will be able to handle new technology, not only the Internet, but projectors, etc.

American society in general is aging and so is the camping population at LKAG. Right now, much of the housing at the Assembly Grounds is upstairs, either in dormitories built more than 50 years ago or in cabins. "The groups that are coming continue to age," said Walther, creating the need for the new facility.

Customers these days are more discerning, said Walther, wanting certain amenities. "It's a changing market," he said.

new lodge "I think it's real important," said Gary Haglund of Paynesville, who has served on the camp's board of directors for eight years.

The new building (drawing at right) will allow the camp to continue to extend its year-round ministry and to accommodate campers who might have had difficulty staying before. "We see it as an opportunity to expand the people we can reach," said Haglund.

"Fall, winter, and spring are times we can expand, and this will help us do that," he added.

"The work of Christ is going on year round," said Dwight Rieke, whose dad was a pastor and built a private cabin at the Assembly Grounds in 1928. He grew up visiting the camp and the cabin, which he has now inherited.

The Assembly Grounds can house 500 people at a time in the summer, but only 200 people in the winter. The new Retreat Lodge, with room year-round for 38, actually does not add any capacity in the summer. The four cabins removed this summer to make room for the lodge had a combined sleeping capacity of 38 for the summer.

But it does increase the year-round capacity by 38, and an increasing part of camping at the Assembly Grounds is done in the winter. The Assembly Grounds has about 7,500 campers each year, who spend over 21,000 user days (defined as three meals and an overnight stay) at the camp.

In 1999, 77 percent of campers came in June, July, and August, and only 23 percent came during the other nine months. In 2000, only 72 percent came in the three summer months, and 28 percent came during the rest of the year. And in 2001, only 71 percent came in the summer, and 29 percent in the other months.

The Assembly Grounds had started focusing more on year-round operation before starting this project. Several dormitories have been winterized in recent years, and, in 1998, an indoor gymnasium was built to provide recreation year round, as well as times of inclement weather in the summer.

Ground breaking The new Retreat Lodge also will provide valuable meeting areas. The lower floor will have a meeting area for 40 people, and the upper story will have a room for 80 people. Many of the meeting areas at the Assembly Grounds are not winterized (like the tabernacle, the most prominent building when the camp is viewed from the lake, which seats 600). Other large meeting areas, including the distinctive white chapel, have neither bathrooms nor running water.

Gary Haglund of Paynesville, a member of the LKAG's board of directors, takes a ceremonious shoveful of dirt during a ground-breaking ceremony for the new Retreat Lodge in October.

Another new feature in the Retreat Lodge will be a laundry room in the basement. This was requested by campers, said Walther, who may want to wash some clothes during a week's stay at the camp.

As a nonprofit organization, the Assembly Grounds is used mainly by religious groups and other nonprofit organizations. Over 90 percent of its user days in 2001 were by religious groups, but only 35 percent were United Methodist groups. The camp is used by Jewish groups, Islamic groups, and Christian groups, said Walther.

The Assembly Grounds intentionally chose to do the project with local contractors, said Walther.

The new building will hopefully be done and ready to be used by June 2003.

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