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Transformation of Willmar's Rice Park begins

Shelby Lindrud / Tribune Construction has begun at Rice Park in Willmar. Dirt work along with installing plumbing and electricity for the forthcoming shelter and splash pad started in early June. Needed soil corrections slowed the project, but work should begin next week on the major elements.1 / 5
Submitted Concept art of the new three-season shelter to be constructed at Willmar's Rice Park. The partially enclosed block construction will allow for usage spring through fall. There will also be bathrooms and changing rooms in the shelter. 2 / 5
Shelby Lindrud / Tribune Rice Park in Willmar might not look like much now, but in a few months there will be a new three-season shelter and multi-element splash pad.3 / 5
Submitted Concept art of the Rice Park splash pad. It will have 21 different features, for both younger and older children. Willmar officials say it will be a "showcase park" for the whole family.4 / 5
Submitted The project plan for Rice Park in southwest Willmar. This drawing includes some of the alternatives, including the shade structures and landscaping, which have not been added to the project by the City Council. The park project is at its $706,000 approved budget now, and the city would need to find an additional $113,800 for all the alternatives.5 / 5

WILLMAR — Currently, Rice Park looks more like a big sand box than a feature park, but give it a few weeks and people will really start to see a change at the green space located a block off First Street along Kandiyohi Avenue Southwest.

"By putting the resources into Rice, we are going to create a showcase park right in the middle of the city," said Steve Brisendine, director of Willmar Community Education and Recreation.

Dirt work started in early June, along with installing plumbing and electricity for the forthcoming shelter and splash pad. Needed soil corrections slowed the project, but work should begin next week on the major elements of the park, with the new three-season shelter going up first.

The shelter will be made of block and will be enclosed, allowing for spring through fall usage and rentals for private functions. There will also be bathrooms and changing rooms in the shelter.

The shelter will open up into a plaza and then into the 3,000-square-foot splash pad, with 21 total water features, for plenty of wet, family fun.

"To me it is a family park. That is the kind of park this will be," Brisendine said.

The Willmar City Council approved spending $706,000 on the Rice Park rehabilitation in the 2016 budget, but the bids to do the work were not approved until April and May of this year. The first round of bids came over budget and the project was rebid, with several alternatives helping to keep costs under control.

"It will be a great park, no question about that," Brisendine said.

Today the project is right about at $706,000, due to the soil corrections needed at the park which has used up most of the contingency built into the budget, Brisendine said.

The alternatives for the park project include shade structures, tennis court removal, concrete seat benches, walkways and landscaping/irrigation. Constructing all of the alternatives would add an additional $113,800 to the total project costs.

The council discussed the alternatives at the June 19 meeting, but no vote was taken on whether to approve them or not. A motion was made but died due to a lack of a second.

"We need to act upon it soon," Brisendine said, because the contractors are ready to get to work and it could be better to do the alternatives now instead of having to rebid for them later, possible costing more money.

The Rice Park project has a substantial completion deadline of Oct. 31. The park, including the splash pad, will be ready to go for next summer, Brisendine said.

"It is a new age park, complete with the splash pad and shelter," Brisendine said.

Discussions and plans for Rice Park have been ongoing since at least 2013, when the wading pool closed for good and the city started on its master park plan. The park plan was completed in 2015 and called for major upgrades at Rice Park.

The park plan has projects outlined for many of the city's parks and Brisendine is happy to see some of the plan being realized.

"It is very exciting to get the work done. I hope this is just step one the city will take to improve the park system," Brisendine said.

Willmar has 36 parks and Brisendine said more and more people are looking at the amenities a city has to offer when moving. This is especially true now, since many people can work remotely. Families have even more choices when deciding on which city to call home.

"Parks are a big component of what make a city liveable. Everybody uses the parks. It is time to invest in the park system," Brisendine said.

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