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Vote ‘yes' for referendum

Park Bond Referendum attempts to address Eden Prairie resident concerns: Four questions on Nov. 8 ballot, few questions raised at Tuesday town meeting

By Karla Wennerstrom, Eden Prairie, News, October 13, 2005

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

After the Park Bond Referendum failed last year, the city of Eden Prairie surveyed residents. The response the city got was, "We want you to come back and try to get it right," said Parks and Recreation Department Director Bob Lambert.

Last year's $22.5 million dollar referendum, which included almost $8 million for an outdoor aquatics park, has been replaced with a $16.7 million referendum, with no water park, broken down into four questions.

Lambert said residents didn't want the referendum all in one question and they didn't want to spend all that money on an aquatics park. Residents who were surveyed said they wanted the city to fix the parks and facilities it has, enhance the trail system and address pool needs.

"We're trying to react to what people have told us," Lambert said in an interview.

"At least they've carved it up into bite-size pieces now," Eden Prairie resident Fred Koppelman said in an interview. Koppelman said he voted against the referendum last year, but said he wasn't sure what his vote would be this year. "I'm looking at it from the standpoint of the taxpayer and what's coming out of our pocket," he said.

"I'm certainly not against improving the parks," Koppelman said. But he wondered if the proposed improvements are needed: "Is it something that would be nice to have or something that we really need to have?"

At a town meeting Tuesday, residents were given the opportunity to ask questions about the referendum after a presentation by Lambert. One question came from "Eden Prairie for Parks" (the group promoting the referendum) chair Ian Mackay's son, Cameron, who asked where the proposed trails would go.

One resident asked about the high cost of warming houses, which Lambert said is due to the heavy-duty construction that is needed because of the use and abuse of the buildings. Another resident asked about heating costs at proposed facilities. Lambert said the city is planning for the increased costs and has to pay high heating costs just like everyone else.

Residents with questions about the proposal were encouraged to contact their City Council members for more information.

Community Center redo
Question 1 involves improvements to the Community Center Lambert described in an interview before the meeting. As a member of the original design committee in about 1980, Lambert said that original design included many of the improvements being proposed today. To save $1 million at the time, "we cut all the things that a lot of people on that committee thought were important," he said.

Today, those improvements, including a gymnasium, larger locker rooms, a larger fitness area, an improved lobby and concession area and an indoor walking track, will cost $6.65 million.

Lambert said he was born in 1945 and as a baby boomer, said, "that age group is a much more active group and I think they will be as seniors. They're going to want to have facilities that allow them to stay in shape and stay vital."

Question 2
If Question 1 doesn't pass, then Question 2 can't pass, because necessary infrastructure is in the first question. Question 2 includes improvements to the Community Center pool and the addition of a zero-depth entry warm water indoor recreation pool.

If approved, the east end of the Community Center pool would be made deeper to accommodate swim meets. A zero-depth entry warm water pool would be added for another group of swimmers, including seniors who take water aerobics classes and children taking swimming lessons.

"You'll never satisfy either group until you have two pools," Lambert said. "We think that question will solve our pool needs."

"We're a little leery of the pool question, even though this is not an aquatic center," Lambert said, when asked in an interview why the pool improvements were separated from other parts of the referendum. He said the city decided to give residents as many choices as possible.

Parks and playgrounds
The third portion of the referendum includes major renovations of Forest Hills Park and Edenvale Park; a permanent park shelter at Prairie View Park; expansion of the Flying Cloud Fields; acquisition of park land; new playgrounds at Carmel Park, Edgewood Park, Rustic Hills Park, Sterling Field Park and Topview Park; and renovation of tennis courts at Carmel Park, Eden Valley Park, Homeward Hills Park, Prairie East Park and Rustic Hills Park.

Lambert said, for example, the shelter at Prairie View Park is in "an area that invites vandalism," which would be changed if Question 3 passes.

He said that the playground and tennis court improvements would take five to 10 years to complete with general park funding if the referendum failed.

The city is planning about $5 million worth of trail improvements over the next 10 years. "$2 million [what the referendum asks for] will address the most immediate needs," Lambert said. He said the money would help the city buy pieces of land to complete the city's "spine of trails."

He said the completion of the sidewalks and trails in the Major Center area is also important, to make the area more walkable for residents.

Another chance
Since last year's referendum failed, the city has made a few of the improvements that referendum included. Ice arena repairs, which were part of the proposal, have been completed, Lambert said. Some repairs were done at the Community Center to meet interim demands.

Lambert said it would be hard to say how projects like the Flying Cloud Fields expansion and renovation of Edenvale and Forest Hills parks would be funded if this year's referendum fails.

"It would be difficult, because these are projects that, just because of statutory reasons, we have to ask residents to fund them," City Manager Scott Neal said. Because these are amenities, not necessary items like a fire station, the city needs citizens' approval to issue bonds.

Residents who are feeling overtaxed "will have a chance to tell us that," Neal said. "We would tell them that we feel like this is a way that they can improve the value of their biggest investment, their home."

"Eden Prairie for Parks" chair Mackay said, "It's time to fix some of these things." He said, "It's really about upgrading facilities for everybody."

If all four questions pass, the referendum would cost $58.99 a year for the owner of a $339,200 home (the median home price in Eden Prairie for 2005).

For more information on the referendum, residents can visit the city Web site at Residents can watch a rebroadcast of Tuesday's town meeting on local cable as well.

Four questions on Nov. 8 ballot
That was THEN, this is NOW
The city of Eden Prairie has taken input from residents and made changes to the referendum that failed last year. The following are some of the differences between the referendum then and now.

* Then, the referendum was one question, valued at $22.5 million. Now, the referendum is split into four questions, valued at a total of $16.7 million.

* Then, the referendum included a multimillion-dollar outdoor aquatics center. Now, the only referendum question that relates to swimming, question two, includes improvements to the indoor pool and the addition of a zero-depth entry warm water pool at the Community Center.

* Then, the referendum was in the same year as a school district referendum. Now, it is not – and it is during a regular vote in November, not a special May election.

Question 1 – Would allow the city to issue bonds up to $6,650,000 for additions and improvements to the Community Center, including an expanded fitness center and locker rooms, a gymnasium, indoor track, multi-use room and expanded concession and lobby area.

Question 2 – Would allow the city to issue bonds up to $3,330,000 for additions and improvements to the existing indoor swimming pool and the addition of a zero-depth entry warm water indoor pool at the Community Center.

Question 3 – Would allow the city to issue bonds up to $4,695,000 for acquisition of additional park land and improvements to existing parks. This would include major renovations of Forest Hills Park and Edenvale Park, a permanent park shelter at Prairie View Park, expansion of the Flying Cloud Fields, acquisition of park land, new playgrounds at five parks and renovated tennis courts at five parks

Question 4 – Would allow the city to issue bonds up to $2,000,000 for improvements to and expansion of the trail system, including purchasing land, upgrading trails and completing the sidewalk and trail system in the Major Center Area.

If all four questions pass on Election Day, Nov. 8, it would cost the owner of a $339,200 home (the median price for a home in Eden Prairie in 2005) $58.99 per year.

Source: City of Eden Prairie

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