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More than $1M in Swansson Field improvements on deck after Willmar council approval

The Willmar City Council approved the plans for the Swansson Field improvements — funded by the local option sales tax — and the project will be bid out. The $1.5 million estimated project would bring upgrades to Klemmetson, Blue, Yellow and Red Fields, with several alternates possible if the bids come in lower than expected.

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Swansson Field will receive improvements after the Willmar City Council approved the plans from the local option sales tax project. Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune

WILLMAR — Construction could begin at the Swansson Field Recreation Complex in southwest Willmar as soon as the end of September now that the Willmar City Council has approved the plans for the local option sales tax-funded project to happen at the baseball and softball facility.

"I am glad we are moving forward with one of our projects," said Councilor Julie Asmus.

The project has a base bid construction budget of $1.5 million. Along with approving the plans, the council has also allowed the project to go out to bid.

The base bid includes improvements at Klemmetson, Blue, Yellow and Red Fields. Those upgrades include a turf infield, stadium seating, a new concession building and a viewing berm at Klemmetson, renovating the current bathrooms and field and dugout improvements at the other three fields.

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Also possible are $414,600 in alternates including field upgrades at Green Field, additional bathroom improvements, a park shelter and improved sound system at Klemmetson Field.

"I think it looks like a pretty good project," said Mayor Marv Calvin.

To give the project a better chance of adding some of those alternates, Calvin attempted to persuade the council to remove $200,000 from the project's contingency budget and allow the funds to be used for construction. While council members did show some interest in the idea, the amendment to the motion to approve the plans failed due to a lack of second. Councilor Audrey Nelsen said she believed such a decision would be better made once the bids for the project come in.

According to the schedule provided by architect firm Widseth, public bidding for Swansson Field opened Aug. 24 and lasts until Sept. 14, with the City Council approving the subcontractor bids at the Sept. 21 meeting. Construction could begin anytime after that and is estimated to be completed in spring 2021.

The council also approved the priority list created earlier this summer by the the Invest in Willmar local option sales tax board. Because there has been less revenue than expected collected from the sales tax and the uncertainties caused by the pandemic, the council put most of the projects on hold in May. The sales tax board was directed to prioritize the projects.

The top two projects, Robbins Island and Swansson Field, are now on their way. The next priority is the construction of the new recreational fields near the Willmar Civic Center, with a voter-approved budget of $6 million. The council has not yet approved the budget for the project nor allowed work to begin again on it.

The board would also like some of the work, approximately $2 million of the $10 million budget, eventually moving forward on the events and recreation center.

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Projects the sales tax board are recommending stay on hold are the Community Center and most of the work on the event and recreation center. The stormwater projects, with an original budget of $7 million, can be addressed as needed.

Calvin said he does not agree with how much of each project's total budget, approximately 25 percent, is being held back for contingency and engineering costs. He said the voters approved the projects and budgets and the council should be doing what it can to make sure those projects happen as envisioned. He also is concerned about the stormwater projects being treated differently than the other sales tax projects.

"Here we are now, cutting projects that the citizens of Willmar voted on, that they wanted done," Calvin said. "That to me is troubling to me as mayor."

Administrator Brian Gramentz said that just because some of the funds start out as part of the contingency budget, it does not mean it won't eventually be spent on construction. Having a healthy contingency fund is fiscally responsible, Gramentz said. If at the end of the original project there is money remaining, it can be then used for additions, such as new shelters at Robbins Island or some of the alternates at Swansson Field.

"Any of those alternates can be picked up and funded with any money left over on any of the projects," Gramentz said. "Nobody is losing out on anything."

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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