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Why I'm voting yes (4 times) for parks

A guest column by Rob Barrett, Chair of the EP Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Commission

Published in the October 6th edition of the Eden Prairie Sun Current

On Nov. 8, I will vote yes to all four questions of the Eden Prairie park bond referendum.

We on the Eden Prairie Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Commission have strived, through the last couple years, to provide maximum recreation at minimal cost. We have tried to find solutions to all the recreational needs of Eden Prairie residents without raising taxes, and by utilizing the park dedication fees builders pay when they develop land.

As we come to the end of land being developed in Eden Prairie, we are faced with a few major revisions of our park system needs. We want to be as stingy as possible with the remaining park dedication fee fund.

So, we've advised the City Council to come to you, the voters, and ask your permission to issue bonds to finish the infrastructure Eden Prairie will need for the future.

These needs are:

• Improvements and revisions to the Community Center - $6.65 million.

• Deepening the existing pool and the adding a zero-entry pool for lessons and other activities - $3.33 million.

• Park improvement and open space acquisition - $4.695 million.

• Trail system expansion and improvement - $2 million.

While these numbers may appear large the bonds are payable over 20 years. They would only raise the property taxes of the median-priced Eden Prairie house by $4.92 per month, or $58.99 per year.

This is an investment we think is worth making in our community.

We hear repeatedly from new home buyers how the park system in Eden Prairie was a major factor in deciding to purchase a house here. Our property values have risen substantially due to the parks system.

A few points on each project:

The Community Center was built in 1982, and was a cutting-edge facility at the time. But it is woefully behind where the community has grown these last 23 years, and needs improvement to be a viable asset in the future. Larger locker rooms, family dressing rooms, expanded team rooms, an indoor walking track and many other improvements will make this a community center we can be excited about, well into the future.

We have a large and extremely successful competitive swimming tradition in Eden Prairie. Due to recent rule changes, our teams can no longer hold competitions at the Community Center pool. We need to deepen one end so the swimmers won't be in danger of hitting their heads at the start of the race. This will also help lap swimmers who use the pool frequently for exercise.

Deepening the pool, however, will make giving swimming lessons for kids impossible. The only solution for both groups is to build another pool with zero-depth entry on one side, so kids can enter at their own pace and lessons and water aerobics and other classes can take place in a variety of water depths. Having two pools would enable us to solve the water temperature controversy (competitive and lap swimmers want the water cold, seniors and kids want the water warm) as we can keep the zero-depth entry pool warm and the deeper pool cooler.

Rather than get into all the specifics of the park improvements and acquisitions that are being proposed in question three, let me just say there are some key pieces of land that the city should preserve, and a few parks that need redesigning due to changing attitudes of exercise and changing circumstances around the parks.

The best example is Forest Hills Park, where last year vandals burned down the warming house at the ice rink, due to its isolation. We would like to move the rink closer to the road and the school, so that it may be a safer and more effective asset in the park. This is just one of many similar examples.

The trail system is in need of the least amount of fixing, but a few major projects still remain in order to finish the connections and the paving of the path system. While our economy is still struggling a little, these improvements and investments in our city are well worth it, and will pay benefits for years to come.

On Nov 8, vote yes for our parks and our community.

Rob Barrett is chair of the Eden Prairie Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Commission.

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