Improvements coming to Cedar, Clear Lake, Kulenkamp parks
After waiting eight months since the City Council tabled discussion of maintenance needs at Forest Lake parks, members of the Park Board spent another 80 minutes with the topic in limbo at Monday’s City Council meeting.
The council rewarded their patience by agreeing to fund $268,000 for a host of repairs, upgrades and additions to parks and trails.
Approval didn’t come easily, though. Some proposed upgrades were nixed, and the topic nearly stalled entirely for a second consecutive year.
In the end, a 4-1 vote paved the way for work to be completed this year that will impact all 22 parks in the system.
Six projects were fully or partially funded. Two parks will benefit from $70,000 worth of work apiece.
Cedar Park, located at Second Avenue and Seventh Street in the city’s northwest quadrant, will get a new playground, basketball court, tables, benches and trail.
Drainage improvements, upgrades to playground equipment and an expansion of the basketball court are on deck for Clear Lake Park, located on the lake’s eastern shore at 5803 213th St.
David H. Kulenkamp Memorial Park, a large area north of Second Lake at 8398 230th St. N., will get new playground equipment and a trail to the playground.
At all three parks, the improvements focus on bringing equipment up to safety standards.
Three other projects each involve multiple parks. For $40,000, rubber mulch will be added to meet safety requirements for the depth of padding underneath play equipment. Another $20,000 will allow for thorough and consistent signage at each park. Also, the council approved $8,000 to repair or replace run-down picnic tables.
Three $20,000 line items were cut from the $350,000 proposal prepared by the Park Board: a cement pad, picnic table, bench and swings for Bay Park, a dock and fence for North Shore Circle Park, and matching funds to attract donations for a dog park.
The council last year asked the Park Board to prioritize $350,000 worth of park improvements. But when that list came forth in November, the council instead chose to delay the discussion until completion of a comprehensive Parks, Trails and Open Space Master Plan.
For that long-range plan, the Park Board worked with engineers and members of the public to inventory Forest Lake’s system and chart a path for future improvements and additions.
The council accepted the master plan on a 3-2 vote Monday, clearing the way for resolution of the one-time park maintenance funding issue.
Dedicating money for the work is designed to kick off an attempt to catch up on deferred maintenance. In April the city made the head park position full time and hired Nicole Schossow, who has experience in fundraising and grant writing. She hopes to find creative ways to fund the improvements called for in the master plan.
There is plenty of catching up to do.
“We have a very significant gap in the maintenance of our park system, so we aren’t resourcing that the right way, even to maintain our current asset as it sits,” City Administrator Aaron Parrish said. “Go over to Cedar Park, go over to ‘Name The Park.’ There’s a lot of conditions out there that are not ideal at this point.”
The city has designated about $30,000 a year for park maintenance in recent years.
“We’re not budgeting for one playground replacement per year in Forest Lake, and we have 22 parks, so that’s the gap,” Parrish said. “We’re not resourced to deal with that.”
Councilmen Mike Freer and Ben Winnick voted against the master plan. Winnick advocated removing outdated equipment to turn some parks into unmanaged green space. Freer compared the plan’s priorities to a citizen budgeting for a Lamborghini.
“I think there’s a lot of things on here that are good, but a lot of it is a wish list that needs to be scaled back dramatically,” he said.
Mayor Chris Johnson disagreed.
“I think that our city has historically underfunded parks, has under-maintained parks. … I think the truth is it’s a very modest plan compared to other cities, and we’ve just been involved with such a subpar park system that we might think (the plan is) a Lamborghini,” he said.
After accepting the master plan, council members began sorting the merits of the nine items the Park Board asked for with the one-time payment.
Sensing the meeting taking on a workshop feel, Freer advocated tabling the discussion and lumping it in with the upcoming 2015 budget talks.
“People are not sure what they really want to do on this. We’re talking about putting things in, taking things out,” he said. “We have a budget process that starts in August. I realize that you guys want to get things bid right now to get them done for this year, but I’d rather make sure that we’re making a decision based on what really needs to be done and getting them done at one time rather than trying to figure out how we’re going to do this.”
Winnick joined Mayor Johnson and Councilwomen Susan Young and Molly Bonnett in approving the funds.
“Mike, I do agree that it should be part of the budget process, but we’re looking at safety issues that we talked about last year,” he said.
The work will be funded by $188,000 from the capital improvement fund and $80,000 from park development fees.