After 30 years parks are in need of an upgrade
WILLMAR — The 37 parks that make up the Willmar parks system provide ample opportunities for outdoor activities, ranging from swimming and baseball to playgrounds and hiking. To many, the parks are one of the great reasons to live and work in Willmar.
"We have a great park system," Steve Brisendine, Willmar Community and Education and Recreation director, said.
However, many of the amenities at those parks are showing their age. Brisendine said most of the major parks were established in the 1970s and 1980s and are in need of repairs and upgrades.
"We would like to replace the old and add some new, things today's children want to use. You do need to keep the amenities up," Brisendine said, adding he sees this as taking care of things Willmar already has.
The Parks and Recreation Master Plan was completed in 2015 and outlines all the major projects needed to bring Willmar's well-loved parks into the present and future. Several of those projects are now being discussed at the City Council level.
At the Feb. 6 City Council meeting, information was shared regarding projects at the Swansson Field Park Complex, Miller Park and Rice Park.
The Swansson Field Complex is located north and south of Willmar Avenue in southwest Willmar and includes baseball and soccer fields, in addition to the Dorothy Olson Aquatic Center. Rice Park is situated in between Kandiyohi Avenue and Rice Avenue Southwest, and between Second and Third and Streets and currently has tennis courts and the closed wading pool. Miller Park is located near the intersection of Kandiyohi Avenue and 13th Street Southwest. The park includes tennis courts and a Little League Baseball Field.
The City Council has approved a motion to enter into a contract with Cities Edge Architects ($13,300) and SRF Consulting Group ($9,726) for professional services to develop and construct a new concession and restroom facility at the multi-field complex along Willmar Avenue. Early estimates for the concession and restroom building show a project cost of around $300,000. There is $365,000 in the city's budget for the project.
"The old concession facility is over 40 years old and is in disrepair," Brisendine said.
Concessions have not been sold at the north Swansson fields for several years because the building does not meet code or permit requirements for food preparations and sales, Brisendine said. With those fields hosting baseball and softballs games throughout the summer, having a place to sell food and drinks makes sense.
"It is an opportunity for the baseball boosters" to raise money, Brisendine said.
This August, Willmar will play host to the VFW State Baseball Tournament at the Swansson Field Complex, so the hope is the concession building will be up and operational by that time.
"It would be good to get it done by mid-July," Brisendine said.
The new building project is only the first upgrade Brisendine hopes to see completed at the Swansson Field Complex over the next few years.
While Bill Taunton Stadium around Baker Field and the Dorothy Olson Aquatic Center, all part of the Swansson Field Complex, were built in the 2000s, many of the amenities on the north side of the park are over 30 to 40 years old.
"It is time to relook at things built in the 1970s," Brisendine said.
Potential projects include new lights installed next year at Baker, where the Willmar Stingers play, and at Orange Field, which is one of five fields located north of Willmar Avenue. A utility storage building is also planned for next year.
Lighting upgrades for Green, Yellow, Red and Blue Fields in the northern section of the park are in the park improvement plan for 2019, as is reorienting Blue Field so that home plate is located in the north corner of the diamond. A new playground and road and parking improvements also are in the plan.
Also on the to-do list this year is Miller Park, which Brisendine wants to see turned into the city's main tennis park.
"We'd like to take the two-court complex and expand it to a four-court," Brisendine said. The city would also put in new playground equipment.
Brisendine said tennis has seen a turnaround in Willmar recently, and having a multi-court location, similar to the one at the Middle School, would allow for tournament and larger group play.
"It has had a nice reviving. Jim Anderson has really ramped up the school program," Brisendine said. Anderson is the boys and girls tennis coach for Willmar Senior High School.
Brisendine said it's been years since the last time any major work has been done on the city's tennis courts and it is starting to show.
"We haven't resurfaced the courts in years. We can't even find when Miller Park's tennis courts were built," Brisendine said.
There is $220,000 in the 2017 budget for the Miller Park project. At the next council meeting Tuesday, Brisendine will be requesting approval of a professional services contract with SRF Consulting Group for plans and construction specs to begin the project.
The City Council had approved a Rice Park project last year which would have replaced the closed wading pool with a splash pad, upgraded the shelter to a three-season structure and removed the two tennis courts there. There was $706,000 in the 2016 budget for the project, most of which is still available. However, when the project was initially bid, it was over-budget by about $50,000.
The council denied a request for additional funding, and Brisendine now hopes to rebid the project, with alternates, to keep it under budget. Changes to the project could include narrower walkways, but keeping the shelter and splash pad as designed.
"We think that is the right thing to do," Brisendine said.
Also on Brisendine's radar is Robbins Island Park, Willmar's largest park on Business 71. It was recently designated a regional park and was recommended to receive a $606,000 Legacy Grant from the state for a new shelter, boat house and trail. The city would need to come up with a match of $250,000, but Brisendine said that could be found by postponing some other park projects, such as the utility building at Swansson Field.
Brisendine said the push to build the destination playground at Robbins Island — a privately funded effort that will be turned over the city after installation — has also kick-started other projects at the park.
"It is a great first step and we're blessed the community stepped up," Brisendine said.
While the park projects planned for the next few years and in the master plan might be changed or moved around as needed, Brisendine is excited about the work taking place right now in Willmar's many parks.
"We haven't had this much energy in parks in quite awhile. It is a lot of fun," Brisendine said.