WILLMAR - The overcast and slightly cool weather didn't deter a large, celebratory crowd gathering Wednesday afternoon at Rice Park in Willmar to officially cut the ribbon on the completed project which saw the installation of a splash pad and the construction of a new three-season shelter. Dozens of kids, with the adults watching, were already enjoying the water features at the splash pad.

"Positive things happen when you get families outside, enjoying the outdoors," Mayor Marv Calvin said.

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The splash pad has been open for the past few weeks and crowds of kids have been running through the sprays on an almost daily basis.

"It is very fun," said Maddie Stein, 9.

Isaiah Vazquez, 11, said the water was a bit cold, but all the features were a lot of fun.

"It'll be very fresh on a summer day," Vazquez said.

The project, which cost around $822,000, gave the popular park a much needed upgrade after the old wading pool was closed in 2013. The Willmar City Council first approved the project in 2016 and set aside the entire $706,000 in the 2017 parks capital improvement budget for the work.

An additional $116,000 was added in August 2017, to finish the project, including the completion of shade structures, walkways and seating.

Rice Park was the first park completed under the 2015 master park plan.

"What you see here is what we are going to try and replicate across the entire community," Calvin said.

Willmar Community Education and Recreation Director Steve Brisendine thanked a group of people for their hard work on the project, starting with the volunteers which helped create the park plan in the first place.

"It is the leadership of the volunteers of the community that makes things happen as well," Brisendine said. "That citizen input drove all of this to take place."

Representatives from the businesses who all helped make the Rice Park project a reality, were on hand at the celebration.

"I think it is an investment in our community, an investment in our families and our investments in our future leaders," Andy Engan said.

Engan Associates was the architect on the project, and worked with SRF Consulting, who put the park plan and the plan for Rice Park together.

Chester Contracting was the main contractor on the project, and John Chester said he was proud to be part of the project.

"These parks are really needed in our community. It gets the kids away from the TV and the video games. It gets them out here to play and spend time together," Chester said.

Also instrumental to the project were Willmar Public Works staff members, who will also be in charge of maintaining the park.

"Sean (Christensen, public works director) has a public works crew that is second to none," Brisendine said."They do some wonderful work."

The Willmar Area Chamber of Commerce, along with Community Education and Recreation board members, City Council members and others cut the ribbon on the splash pad, which was quickly overtaken again by the kids, who had waited patiently through the speeches.

"Welcome to Rice Park!" Brisendine said.