Willmar City Council splits the vote for grant acceptance, application

In split 5-2 votes, Willmar City Council approved accepting a grant to construct an outdoor fitness court and applying for an Age-Friendly Minnesota Community grant.

A graphic image of an outdoor fitness court showing people working on various types of exercise equipment.
This graphic image shows what an outdoor fitness court could potentially look like if constructed in Willmar.
Contributed / City of Willmar

WILLMAR — The city of Willmar was successful in obtaining a Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota National Fitness Campaign grant in the amount of $70,000 to construct an outdoor fitness court.

City Administrator Leslie Valiant informed the Willmar City Council of the grant award at Monday’s City Council meeting.

The resolution authorizing city administration to accept the grant was approved in a split 5-2 vote, with Councilors Julie Asmus, Vicki Davis, Audrey Nelsen, Rick Fagerlie and Carl Shuldes voting in favor of the resolution and Councilors Tom Butterfield and Michael O’Brien opposed. Councilor Justin Ask was absent from the meeting.

The council also approved applying for an Age-Friendly Minnesota Community grant for up to $99,000 in a split 5-2 vote, with Butterfield and O’Brien opposed and Asmus, Davis, Nelsen, Fagerlie and Shuldes in favor.

The Age-Friendly grant is offered through the Minnesota Department of Human Services and does not require matching funds from the city, according to Valiant.


Outdoor fitness court

Willmar is the first city in Minnesota to be awarded the grant to construct an outdoor fitness court, which will be located in Sperry Park due to its visibility and connection to the city’s trails.

The fitness court will include a 38-by-38-foot square section with seven different stations for various activities and a 38-by-38-foot square section that is a fitness studio/yoga-type surface for different open activities. It will be constructed on a concrete slab with a rubber surface, according to Valiant.

A graphic image showing the site concept of an outdoor fitness court with a fitness studio on one side of a wall with a mural and various exercise equipment located on the other side of the wall.
This graphic shows the site concept of an outdoor fitness court that includes an outdoor studio for things like yoga classes.
Contributed / City of Willmar

“I think it’s a great idea; as a young mom, I would have loved that,” Davis said. “I would have loved to take my kids to the park and be able to — even using the equipment with the kids.”

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The National Fitness Campaign includes digital programming for adults of all ages and abilities to access workouts, challenges and training tools nationwide.

“The city was chosen because of what we have done in the past,” Valiant said, noting some of the qualities that helped the city obtain the grant include its diverse population, the trails and park system it has developed, and the ongoing recreational improvements like the Events and Recreation Center and the improvements to Swansson Field.

Willmar was one of four sites throughout the state identified as priority one sites and invited to apply for the grant for the outdoor fitness court. Other sites included Duluth, Rochester and Winona.

There are currently two other outdoor fitness courts in Minnesota, located in Waite Park and Worthington.

A graphic image that shows the murals on various outdoor fitness courts throughout the United States.
This graphic image shows various renderings of what artists have painted at outdoor fitness courts throughout the United States.
Contributed / City of Willmar

The city will also receive an additional $20,000 for the artwork that will go on the wall separating two sections of the court, of which $3,000 will be paid to a local artist to design the artwork and the remaining to install the art, accordng to Valiant.


According to the timeline for the grant, the concrete slab will be installed in May or sooner, pending weather conditions, with assembly of the court taking place in June and the court being open to the public as soon as July.

The city’s contribution for the construction of the outdoor fitness court is expected to be approximately $145,000 and will come from the Willmar Parks and Recreation Department’s capital improvement fund.

Nelsen asked what the funds were delegated for before the city learned it was awarded the grant.

Willmar Parks and Recreation Director Rob Baumgarn explained that the Parks and Recreation Department has a capital improvement plan to replace equipment in city parks, and the equipment that was scheduled to be replaced this year will move back a year.

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Age-Friendly Minnesota Community grant

Valiant told the council that she has been working on this grant, with Michelle Kiefer, regional community wellness specialist for CentraCare, and that the Vision 2040 group has also been talking about making Willmar an age-friendly city.

Age-Friendly Minnesota is a collaborative statewide effort to make communities more inclusive of and responsive to older adults, according to its website. It is part of a global movement to prepare for an aging population and ensure that older people are valued and integrated into communities at a new level.

The city will work with various groups to plan what is needed in the city to make it more inclusive and responsive to people as they age, and the process will take approximately five years, according to Valiant.

Jennifer Kotila is a reporter for West Central Tribune of Willmar, Minnesota. She focuses on local government, specifically the City of Willmar, and business.

She can be reached via email at: or phone at 320-214-4339.
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