WILLMAR — Even as the Willmar City Council wrestles with concerns it has about the Invest in Willmar local option sales tax plans for the proposed Recreation and Event Center project, work continues on Robbins Island Regional Park. The plans for phase two of the park project, which includes reconstructed park shelters and new lighting, were presented during a virtual public meeting Tuesday.
"We are very excited to show what we have done and what we hope to complete this year," said Rachel Skretvedt, chairperson of the Robbins Island subcommittee.
Phase two was made possible because phase one, which included the construction of a new road, parking improvements and a new water main at the park, came in significantly under budget. The subcommittee ended up having $1.3 million available out of a total $3 million for more improvements at the park.
"It took a lot of synergy to get together, timing to figure this out, to look at what is good for the community," said subcommittee member Paul Cool. "We did our due diligence. I think the community, the whole region will be satisfied with the way this turns out."
The focus of the second phase is the four park shelters — Guri Endresen, Hilltop and the two open shelters. The current structures will be demolished and then rebuilt on or close to the original sites. Guri and Hilltop will be enclosed structures, with walls and windows. Open shelter one will include a building and a covered patio area. Open shelter two will be an open structure, with room for eight six-foot-long picnic tables as well as additional seating around the support poles of the structure roof.
The plans also includes new tree plantings and light installations around the new road and parking lots, as well as along the old road that will be used as a path through the wooded portion of the park.
The plans will now go to the Invest in Willmar board for its approval and then on to the Parks and Recreation Board, Willmar City Council Public Works and Public Safety Committee until finally ending up in front of the Willmar City Council for final approval.
The plans for Robbins Island will join the plans for the Recreation and Event Center and the recreation fields by the Willmar Civic Center, which were tabled by the Public Works and Public Safety Committee last month. The committee tabled the plans because they wanted more information on both projects. There are also differences of opinion on whether the Recreation and Event Center is meeting the expectations of the public.
At Monday's City Council meeting, Councilor Rick Fagerlie made a motion to pause work on all of the sales tax projects except for Robbins Island and Swansson Field. He said he had heard concerns regarding the land swap between Willmar Public Schools and the city for the recreational fields, issues pertaining to the location of the Recreation and Event Center from the Glacial Ridge Curling Club and overall unhappiness regarding the center's design.
"It is not an event center, it is two gyms," Fagerlie said. "We don't need two gyms. If we needed more gyms, we should have added it to a school."
City Administrator Brian Gramentz said most of the issues Fagerlie raised are already being taken care of, including the land swap with the school and the concerns from the curling club.
"The issues council member Fagerlie has brought up have progressed a good distance since a week ago. I don't know I would get hung up on it, because we are trying to move it forward for a spring bid, if we do go there," Gramentz said.
The Public Works and Public Safety Committee will take up the tabled plans at its March 11 meeting, which was rescheduled from March 4. The committee had many of the same concerns Fagerlie brought up at the council meeting.
"We weren't comfortable making the recommendation to council because it wasn't where it needed to be," councilor Andrew Plowman said of the project plans.
The motion to pause work on the projects failed on a 5 to 3 vote, with councilors Fagerlie, Michael O'Brien and Tom Butterfield voting for the motion. The rest of the council allowed the Public Works and Public Safety Committee to continue its work.
"I am happy to wait for the committee to gather more information and give the public the opportunity to give us more input before we put anything on hold," said Councilor Justin Ask.