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Future of Rice Park project in Willmar is uncertain

WILLMAR -- Whether updates at Rice Park will go forward is now in question as the Willmar City Council voted Tuesday to reject all bids after they came in over budget.

Rice Park
People enjoy different areas of Rice Park Thursday evening in Willmar. The City Council must decide what to do about higher-than-expected bids for an extensive rehabilitation project at the popular park. Briana Sanchez / Tribune

WILLMAR - Whether updates at Rice Park will go forward is now in question as the Willmar City Council voted Tuesday to reject all bids after they came in over budget.

The council first considered a motion to increase the $706,000 project budget by $50,000 to cover the overrun, and that motion failed. A motion to reject all bids for the project then passed.

The question to increase the budget failed 3-5, with only Councilwoman Audrey Nelsen and Councilmen Denis Anderson and Shawn Mueske voting in favor of adjusting the budget. Those same council members voted against rejecting all bids. That motion passed 5-3.

The majority of the council questioned whether the Rice Park project made sense now with the ongoing stormwater flooding issues in the city and other building projects still pending, including the Civic Center roof and refrigeration system.

"Is this park project really necessary?" Councilman Rick Fagerlie asked.

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Councilman Ron Christianson said he never would have voted to approve the park plan or the Rice Park project if he had known the vast majority of the costs would fall on the city. He said he was under the impression that the city would be seeking grants to pay for the park projects.

"This is an abuse of taxpayers' money. I'm totally against expending these funds for Rice Park. This is wrong, folks," Christianson said.

Councilmen Tim Johnson and Steve Ahmann had concerns about where the extra money would be coming from, along with how the city planned to take care of maintenance and operational costs for the park upgrades.

"We never did get that," Ahmann said.

Councilman Andrew Plowman was the fifth vote against adjusting the budget and in favor of rejecting the bids.

Those who wanted to move the project forward felt the city was reneging on its motion to update the parks.

"We put this in the capital improvement program to start the process of improving our parks. We need to follow through and start improving our parks," Nelsen said.

There were concerns about the city not having its priorities right, but Councilman Mueske said that was the council's own fault. Concerns about stormwater and other building projects were being discussed when the Rice Park project was approved, Mueske said, but the council could never decide what to do. The park plan offered a project ready to go, so the council went with it.

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"It is our own paralysis. We've had incredible difficulty with prioritization," Mueske said.

While the council approved a motion in February to earmark the $706,000 in the parks budget to Rice Park, what happens now is uncertain. With the bids rejected, the city will have to rebid the project as is, or consider reducing the scope of the project and then rebid.

The base bid engineer's estimate for the project was $459,086, but the lowest bidder was $507,668. When the splash pad and engineering costs were added to the bid, it came in over the $706,000 total budget.

The Rice Park project includes replacing the derelict wading pool with a splash pad, building a new park shelter and constructing a concrete plaza and sidewalks. Alternates in the project included a shade structure and removal of the tennis courts.

Related Topics: WILLMAR CITY COUNCIL
Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email slindrud@wctrib.com or direct 320-214-4373.


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