Park funding hits snag

Council pumps brakes on proposal to spend $350,000 for improvements


Clint Riese
News Editor

A proposal for one-time funding of up to $350,000 in park improvements was scratched, or at least delayed, at the Forest Lake City Council’s Nov. 5 workshop.

The idea, involving dollars from the capital improvement fund, stemmed from the council itself during sessions on the 2014 budget. The council even asked the Park Board for a prioritized list of potential improvements.

But when that list came up for review last Tuesday, the five-member body had changed its tone. The policy shift may be attributed to the August resignation of former Councilman Jeff Klein, who supported funding the improvements.

The council now will step back and take a wide-angle view of the entire parks system. The group supports putting out a request for proposals for a parks master plan to replace a 10-year document that expired in 2012.

The plan will incorporate public input, parks and recreation trends, demographics and existing features. The Park Board will revise its priorities based off the study, which City Administrator Aaron Parrish said he hopes will be ready by summer.

Trails emphasis

The consultant will incorporate the city’s trail system into the document. The city is looking to fill in significant gaps in this system.

Much of the contemplated work involves areas near schools. The Minnesota Department of Transportation plans to build a double-roundabout on Highway 61 near Forest Lake High School in 2016, and that project will include a pedestrian overpass. Ideally, trails will connect from there north along the highway and then east past Lakes International Language Academy on 11th Avenue Southeast. That path would connect to an existing one by Saint Peter’s Catholic School on South Shore Drive. The city hopes to extend the south end of that trail south along Eighth Street Southeast and west along Scandia Trail to the high school.

The Nov. 18 council agenda will include a proposal for construction documents for some of the links. The ones being targeted now, Parrish said, include those with the most potential to qualify for grants.

The city’s ongoing staffing reorganization involves eventually changing the current part-time park director position into a full-time park and trail coordinator job.

“It all interrelates,” Parrish said of the planned position change and the proposed trail extensions.

Plans on hold

The Park Board recommended nine improvements ranging from the replacement of worn-out playground parts to the addition of new facilities. Members prioritized the list so that the biggest needs were most likely to be funded.

Park Director Renae Reedy hopes the board’s work will come in handy in the development of the new comprehensive plan.

“It’s never a bad idea to prioritize,” she said.

The plan, in order presented, included:

– $20,000 for a match of dollars raised for a dog park at Bixby Park.

– $60,000 for replacing Clear Lake Park playground equipment and expanding its basketball court.

– $50,000 for replacing the Kulenkamp Park playground with a larger, modern structure.

– $11,000 for consistent signage at all 22 parks.

– $30,000 for new surfacing and curbing at Bayview Park.

– $55,000 for refurbishing tennis courts at Beltz Park.

– $50,000 for building a trail around the perimeter of Kulenkamp Park.

– $9,000 to establish a boater picnic area at North Shore Circle Park.

– $65,000 to build trail connections linking to Shady Trails Park.