Willmar City Council accepts proposed master park plan

WILLMAR -- A plan that will serve as a blueprint for future investments in the city's park system was accepted by the Willmar City Council Tuesday night and placed as an addendum to the comprehensive plan. Officials say the city has not had a mas...

Robbins Island Park
Runners in the annual Memorial Day 5k run/walk make their way through Robbins Island Park in this file photo. It’s one of 37 city parks that slated to be updated and reorganized under a new parks plan. (TRIBUNE/Rand Middleton)

WILLMAR - A plan that will serve as a blueprint for future investments in the city’s park system was accepted by the Willmar City Council Tuesday night and placed as an addendum to the comprehensive plan. Officials say the city has not had a master park plan prior to development of this plan.
The 63-page plan was developed and presented by SRF Consulting Group of Minneapolis after discussions were held with last year with the public at focus group meetings, workshops and a community open house.
The plan discusses system-wide planning and park facilities; proposes establishing two regional parks and six community parks; discusses park maintenance; and implementation, budgeting, funding and cost estimates.
The plan said Willmar residents benefit from a large park system that provides access to neighborhood parks, community parks and regional amenities, which include sports and recreation facilities, lakes and ample open space.
The plan says Willmar’s well-established park system serves a variety of users and provides a wide assortment of activities for residents. But the city seeks to do more with its park system, the plan says.
“Today’s park systems must be programmed and operated to do more with less, support multi-purpose programming and activities, and serve youth, adults and seniors who live in the community,’’ the plan said.
“This plan reaches to the future with vision, innovation and sustainable ideas to reinforce these initiatives. Updating Willmar’s parks will provide safe and relevant amenities that will draw more users to the parks, create places that families and groups that will want to visit and will make Willmar a more attractive community for future residents,’’ the plan said. “Updating the park system will strengthen Willmar’s role as a regional center for business, culture and services.’’
Parks need updating

Willmar’s 37 parks are well used and well maintained, but need updating. According to parks and recreation staff, 80 percent of the playground equipment is over 20 years old. Across the park system, aging buildings, facilities and play equipment have reached the end of their useful life cycles. Many of the facilities no longer meet current standards for accessibility or do not meet current safety codes.
The plan focuses on establishing two regional parks and four community parks. The plan defines a regional park as a grouping of neighboring parks, together acting as one large regional destination park complex. The plan defines community parks as larger multi-purpose parks that serve the entire community.
The two regional parks would be Robbins Island Regional Park Complex and Swansson Field Regional Park Complex. Each regional park would include several smaller parks.
Parks within the Robbins Island Regional Park Complex would be Robbins Island, Hedin, Sperry, Flags of Honor Memorial, Thompson and Rau.
Parks within Swansson Park Complex would be Swansson Field, Baker Field, Lions Park, Dorothy Olson Aquatic Center and the soccer fields.
The four community parks would be Lincoln, Northside, Ramblewood and Rice.
A key component is identifying which parks are within walking distance of the two regional parks and the four community parks.
To help officials prioritize park improvements on a system-wide scale, parks within five blocks of the two regional and four community parks were identified. Improvements at parks may become lower priorities because residents will be able to access newer amenities at the two regional parks and four community parks.
The plan lists from two to four parks within the five-block radius of each of the four community parks. They are: Lincoln - Bjorsell and Gesch; Rice - Selvig and Bjorsell; Northside - Canigo, Bergquist and 7th Street North; and Ramblewood - Westwind Area, Richland Area and Hilltop.
Planning for the future

As Willmar plans for the future of the park system, replacing and upgrading facilities will be an important part of the redevelopment process, and the plan recommends a number of upgrades.
“New facilities will attract more visitors and will provide a more enjoyable and safer experience for park users,’’ the plan said.
The proposed concepts will require a significant investment and several years to plan and develop. Improvement costs are estimated at $22,235,000 ($7,134,000 for the community parks and $15,101,000 for the regional parks) and include removals, asphalt and concrete elements, architectural elements, park elements, site furnishings and landscaping.
The plan states the overall cost is useful for planning purposes, but it’s probable that elements in each park will be developed over an extended period, contingent on funding, project scope and need.
The plan said use of multiple funding mechanisms and additional funding from private and new public sources funds will be needed.

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