Faribault youth baseball camp

Sam Graves gives instructions to a group of campers Friday at Teepee Tonka Park in August 2018. Under a plan being considered by the Faribault City Council, the Teepee Tonka Park baseball fields could be moved out to Prairie Ridge Park in south Faribault. (Daily News File Photo)

In its Tuesday work session, the Faribault City Council sifted through its Capital Improvement Plan, which proposes about $6.8 million in park improvements and facilities upgrades over the next five years.

City Administrator Tim Murray has proposed roughly $2.5 million in improvements to existing facilities. These would be fully paid for by the city’s Facilities Improvement Fund.

After heavy investment in 2020 and 2021 which reduced the fund’s reserves from about $2.4 million to $435,000, Murray says the balance would recover somewhat to $1.16 million by the end of the five-year period. But City Hall, Buckham Memorial Library, Bell Field, the Aquatic Center and the Community Center are all in need of significant upgrades and maintenance.

As one of the city government’s oldest buildings, City Hall, completed in 1897, is in major need of repairs and upgrades. Proposed allocations for City Hall include $33,000 for windows, doors and lighting in 2020, $50,000 for new carpeting in 2021 and $110,000 for a roof replacement and restroom remodel in 2022.

The Buckham Library could also see significant upgrades. $375,000 has been proposed to replace the Library’s roof, which at 25 years old, is well beyond its designed lifespan. The library could also see the expansion and reconstruction of its east parking lot for $475,000. Both projects are suggested to take place in 2020.

Next door, the Faribault Community Center could see more than $1 million in upgrades in 2020-21. The community center is slated to get a new roof and air conditioners.

The Faribault Aquatic Center would receive a pool surface refinish and roof replacement in 2021 at a cost of $380,000. Bell Field would also receive $150,000 in facilities upgrades. Smaller projects add another $450,000 to the total budget.

The proposed CIP also considered included $4.3 million in park improvements. The Park Improvements Fund would be $1.9 million in the red if all projects were to be approved with no additional revenue. Thus, the city will need to either cut or delay some projects, find additional sources of revenue, or a mix of the two.

Murray has argued for increased investment in parks and facilities. He said he’s disappointed that many city parks remain unused or underused because the city has not developed them.

“We’re looking at doing park improvements in parklands that the city has owned 10 to 15 years,” Murray lamented. “Ideally, we would build out these parks shortly after the park is dedicated to the city.”

Paying for it all

On the largely uncontroversial side, the CIP proposal calls for $475,000 to be invested in new playground equipment over five years. Each year, new equipment would be installed at a different park. Windsor Park would receive new equipment in 2020, Waupacuta in 2021, Bluebird 2022, and North Alexander in 2023. The plan also calls for $100,000 in outdoor fitness equipment to be installed in parks throughout the city in 2021.

Another broadly popular plan among the City Council is the development of a new public park on the north end of downtown.

The CIP proposes an extra $250,000 to begin developing a park on the north end of the old public works site, including construction of a beach area and, eventually, a pedestrian bridge across the Straight River. The city is working with Mankato’s Coldwell Banker/Fisher Development Group to turn the south end of the site into a five-story apartment complex similar to the Heritage Bluff Apartments.

More controversial was the plan to add three additional baseball fields at Prairie Park in southwest Faribault, at a price of $700,000. The council has long considered such an addition as a potential alternative to the current baseball fields, located at Teepee Tonka Park. Because Teepee Tonka Park is located along the Straight River, the baseball fields are sometimes rendered unusable due to flooding.

Some councilors were skeptical of the project due to the cost and Prairie Park’s location at the edge of town. Mayor Kevin Voracek and Councilor Elizabeth Cap said they’d be more interested in adding different types of facilities at Prairie Park.

“That’s something I like to see in a park, that we get all sorts of different usages,” Cap said.

To help cover the costs of the move, the city could apply for Hazard Mitigation grant from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management. If received, the grant would cover 75% of the cost of moving the ball fields to Prairie Park. Though skeptical of the project in general, council members were supportive of letting ISG conduct a cost analysis of the move to enable the city to apply for the grant.

Another controversial project is the proposed Mini Golf Course at North Alexander Park. The council was concerned not only by the project’s significant price tag, estimated at about $400,000, but also by its proposed location, well away from the downtown area where the council is looking to add more housing and amenities.

The council weighed a proposal to build a “splash pad,” for an estimated cost of $300,000. Splash pads are water play areas that spray streams of water, typically upward. With little to no standing water, there is little risk of drowning and thus no need for lifeguards and other supervision.

Cap raised sanitation concerns about the splash pad. Some splash pads clean and then recycle water, raising the initial cost of construction and leaving the splash pad at risk of spreading disease if the water cleaning system goes down. Others don’t recycle water, resulting in significantly higher water usage over time.

Overall, most of the council seemed generally supportive of building a splash pad. Voracek urged the council to consider prioritizing the project.

“Many people have been asking for a splash pad for years,” Voracek noted.

Councilor Janna Viscomi said that a splash pad could make for an excellent outdoor meeting place for families. Under the city’s Journey to 2040 plan, more families could be moving into downtown, making the need for more family friendly recreational spots all the more pertinent.

“We’re going to have kids living in the downtown area — a lot more than we do now, and there’s no place for them to go,” said Viscomi.

Another topic of discussion was the addition of a $300,000 skate park close to downtown Faribault. The project is slated for 2023. Councilor Tom Spooner said that while he’s supportive of the idea, he’s concerned that the location could lead to more young people crossing Highway 60 and other major thoroughfares.

“Let’s put it somewhere where they can get to it without fighting traffic and crossing Highway 60,” Spooner said.

Viscomi argued that the Skate Park should be located along a major bike route for easy and safe access. Voracek suggested the Skate Park could be fit into Teepee Tonka Park, a suggestion the council approved of.

The CIP also included two trails with a combined price tag of slightly under $500,000. The new Heritage Bluffs trail would connect Heritage Bluffs Apartment Complex with Teepee Tonka Park for a cost of $75,000. The significantly longer Lyndale trail would run along Lyndale Avenue from Highland Place to Seventh Street NW, with a construction cost of $412,500. The Heritage Bluffs Trail could be completed in one year while the Lyndale Project is projected to be spread out over three phases and four years of construction.

While the council didn’t make any formal decisions, it will continue to consider the projects and potential project funding sources. The council is expected to get a detailed budget plan put together by the end of September when it approves the preliminary 2020 levy

Reach Reporter Andrew Deziel at 507-333-3129 or follow him on Twitter @FDNandrew.

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