Coon Rapids park bond issue could be on the ballet next fall

A Coon Rapids park bond issue may well be on the election ballot in the fall of 2013.

When the Coon Rapids City Council had the first of three planned work sessions on recommendations from the parks, open space and trails master plan update, there was consensus that more than one bond issue would be needed to pay for the proposed projects – and that voters should decide whether to finance them or not, rather than the city levy for projects on an annual basis.

The council’s decision to schedule work sessions on six key aspects of the master plan came following an October public open house at which recommendations from the consultant that prepared the master plan update, Brauer & Associates, and the Coon Rapids Parks and Recreation Commission were presented.

At a work session in late October, the council identified the issues on which they wanted further discussion and at its Nov. 5 meeting the commission put those issues in priority order.

Cornerstone and neighborhood parks were the commission’s top two priorities for council consideration and those were on the work session agenda Nov. 27.

Future work sessions will deal with the proposed recreation supervisor position, park maintenance budget increases, Sand Creek Park redevelopment and athletic council creation.

In preparing the updated master plan, Brauer & Associates split the city into five geographic areas defined by physical barriers such as roads and railroad tracks that would pose difficulties for convenient travel for people from where they live to the parks and trails.

In each “service sector,” as the geographic areas are called, there is an anchor “cornerstone” park, a larger park in which a broader range of facilities would be provided and become a focal point for the area, according to the plan.

The “cornerstone” parks identified in the plan for improvements are Crooked Lake, Pheasant Ridge, Lions Coon Creek, Riverview and Al Flynn.

The council agreed with the concept of the cornerstone parks, but did not think that Crooked Lake Park should have the same level of improvements as the other cornerstone parks because of its proximity to the city of Andover.

Nor did the council think that the Crooked Lake Park upgrade project should be included in the tier one or top priorities for development as identified in the study.

Rather, the council wants Riverview Park to be the cornerstone park that is redeveloped first since it was the planned reconstruction of that park that was abandoned in 2011 because lack of funds and the impetus for the master plan update.

According to councilmembers, residents in the area of Riverview Park have expectations that the park will be redeveloped.

It was the council’s consensus at the work session that the overhaul proposed in the master plan for Sand Creek Park should be a top priority as presented in the master plan, according to City Manager Steve Gatlin.

Under the master plan, Sand Creek Athletic Field, the city’s largest park, becomes a freestanding facility outside the five “service sectors.”

A full renovation to improve layout, orientation and circulation is proposed for Sand Creek Park plus an improved skate park and tennis courts.

Indeed, the council, except for moving Riverview Park to the top priority cornerstone park for redevelopment instead of Crooked Lake, embraced the master plan’s recommended tier one or top priorities for redevelopment and would include them in the first bond issue, Gatlin said.

Under that scenario, a fall 2013 park bond issue would likely include:

• Sand Creek Park complete renovation ranging from a low of $4.9 million to a high of $5.75 million.

• Riverview Park complete renovation from a low of $1.65 million to a high of $2 million.

• Evergreen Dog Park (small parking lot, fencing and water) from a low of $50,000 to a high of $100,000.

• Trails development (Coon Creek Regional Trail, Sand Creek Trail linkage and 85th Avenue trail connection to Kennedy Park) from a low of $1.424 million to a high of $1.74 million.

According to the master plan, the tier one priorities would cost close to $8 million at the low end and $9.5 million at the high end.

If this bond issue was approved by voters in the fall of 2013, then the council talked in terms of a second park bond issue being placed on the ballot in another five to 10 years, Gatlin said.

“It would depend on ability to pay and ability to construct,” he said.

The second bond issue would include redevelopment of a second cornerstone park as well as several trail projects, plus filling gaps in trails and sidewalks, under the tier two development priorities outlined in the master plan.

Those projects have an estimated price tag ranging from $8.1 million to $9.8 million.

The master plan placed redevelopment of the city’s neighborhood parks as well as the remaining three cornerstone parks in the third tier of priorities.

Proposed neighborhood park improvements ranged from high level, mid level to low level.

Total cost for those improvements were in the $6.5 million to $8.35 million price range.

At the work session, the council’s consensus was that the neighborhood parks should remain in tier three offering what the master plan described as a “baseline” level of service.

But the council wanted to keep all of the parks, rather than consider eliminating some of them from the park system, according to Gatlin.

And it would be likely 10 to 15 years before any improvements are considered for them, Gatlin said.

According to Gatlin, since 2002-2011 the city has spent about $7 million, or some $700,000 a year, on major park and trails improvement projects paid for by using a combination of park dedication fees, general fund tax levy and grant funds.

“Funding is no longer available to continue this annual improvement program,” Gatlin wrote in a memo to the council for the October work session.

At this time, many of the city’s major park and trail facilities have safety concerns, handicap accessibility issues and, for the most part, show normal wear and tear after 20-30 years of use, he wrote.

“Many of our facilities are outdated in terms of current park planning standards and are becoming increasingly expensive to maintain,” Gatlin wrote.

The city has some 40 parks, which include athletic fields, ice rinks, sliding hills, play areas and skate parks, and more than 20 miles of trails covering nearly 900 acres.

Development of the park system began in 1959 when Coon Rapids became a city and natural areas were set aside as public space for residents.

A lot of the development took place after voters approved a park bond issue in the 1970s.

Peter Bodley is at [email protected]