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Willmar pushes ahead on major park upgrades

Shelby Lindrud / Tribune Work is wrapping up for the season at Rice Park, where an $822,000 rehab project is nearly complete. The new three-season shelter is up and the splash pad that replaces the old wading pool is ready to go once warm weather returns next year. Landscaping will be completed in the spring.1 / 4
Shelby Lindrud / Tribune The tennis courts at Miller Park in Willmar are in rough shape and will soon be removed and then replaced with a brand new four-court, lighted complex. The Willmar City Council recently approved a contract for the work with Duininck Inc. for $298,219. 2 / 4
Shelby Lindrud / Tribune A frog that squirts water, part of the colorful splash pad at Rice Park in Willmar, is carefully wrapped up for the winter.3 / 4
Shelby Lindrud / Tribune The new three-season shelter at Rice Park in Willmar provides space for activities and events. There are also bathrooms, changing rooms and plenty of patio space. The entire $822,000 rehab project at the park is expected to be completed by the end of May.4 / 4

WILLMAR – As the region enters the season that usually brings sledding, skating and skiing, Willmar’s Community Education and Recreation Department still has its attention on playgrounds, tennis courts and splash pads.

The project at Rice Park is entering its final stages and there are plans in place for a major overhaul of the tennis courts at Miller Park. On top of the major work at those two southwest Willmar parks, the city continues to replace playground equipment at various other neighborhood parks.

The Willmar City Council, during the Nov. 13 meeting, approved the purchase of $101,285 in new playground equipment and approved the contract with Duininck Inc. for $298,219 to do the work at Miller Park.

“I think the council has done a great job setting some priorities and making these investments,” said Steve Brisendine, director of Willmar Community Education and Recreation.

The current tennis courts in Miller Park are to be replaced with a four-court, lighted complex. Brisendine said the work should be completed by the end of July.

“We’re basically rejuvenating Miller Park,” Brisendine said.

The city placed $220,000 in the 2017 budget for the project, with the council designating an additional $150,000 to the project by reallocating funding from the canceled Swansson Field concession stand project and unused airport project funds. The city has also received a $10,000 grant from the United States Tennis Association for the park, with Brisendine saying an additional $20,000 grant is possible.

Another major component of Miller Park will be the new playground equipment, which is also being funded by reallocated monies.

The council earmarked approximately $90,000 from Swansson Field and the airport to be used to replace playground equipment that was removed in 2015 from city parks.

The new equipment was purchased from Minnesota Wisconsin Playgrounds. Brisendine said about $10,000 of the purchase price will come out of the Miller Park budget, which has $40,000 in it for that park’s playground.

The supplier gave the city a very good deal for the three large units and some auxiliary pieces like swings, he said.

“We received a discount. They discounted the project about 50 percent,” Brisendine said.

A unit for 2- to 5-year-olds and one for those up to 12 years old will be placed in Miller Park, along with swings and a balance plank. Another unit for 5- to 12-year-olds will be placed in a second city park, but the decision on which park has not been made. Brisendine expects to get feedback from both the council and public.

In 2016, the city installed new equipment in several city parks, spending around $142,000. There is another $100,000 in the preliminary 2018 budget for playground equipment.

“We did six (parks) a year ago. We’ve got four or five others targeted,” Brisendine said.

While Rice Park is not getting new playground equipment, the rehab project there includes a three-season shelter, a splash pad to replace the closed wading pool, a plaza and additional sidewalks.

The discussion and planning for the project has been ongoing for nearly two years. Construction finally began in July and is now almost complete, though there will be some landscaping to be done in the spring, along with the installation of the shade structures. The park is scheduled to be completed entirely by the end of May.

“It is going to be a great park. It’s going to fill a nitch,” Brisendine said.

The total Rice Park project will cost approximately $822,000. The council initially approved a budget of $706,000 for Rice in 2017 and then approved another $116,000 in additions in August, reallocated from Swansson and the airport.

Brisendine is pleased with all of the current activity going on in the parks and hopes the city continues to invest in the parks’ futures.

“The park plan is coming together. Making these investments is going to benefit the community for generations to come,” Brisendine said.++++