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City shaping park referendum ‘sequel’
City shaping park referendum ‘sequel’
By Stuart Sudak
Eden Prairie News Wednesday, April 21, 2005

If at first you don't succeed, try again – at least by listening to the advice from those who forced you back to the drawing board.

That seems to be the message Eden Prairie city staff members are preaching as they continue their journey to pave the groundwork for possibly bringing another parks referendum to voters in November.

Nowhere to be found in preliminary plans is the outdoor water park that many residents – surveyed shortly after last May's failed $22.5 million referendum – say was a major factor in sinking it. And survey results have also assured how it will be posed to voters (several questions instead of one like last year), when it will appear (on the Nov. 8 general election ballot instead of a special election like last year) and when it will not appear (in the same year as a school referendum like last year).

"The survey we did was instructive for us," City Manager Scott Neal told the City Council last week. "It was good to remind ourselves what we are doing is really consistent with what the voters told us. And people voting yes and no both said they wish they could have another crack at this."

Although the city proposal is still being molded, Parks Director Bob Lambert said what is on the drawing table now is about 60 percent of the total amount of what was planned to be spent last year.

That primarily has to do with cutting the $7 million-plus outdoor water park from plans, he said, as well as looking at funding an indoor play area for young children and a third ice rink at the Community Center through revenue bonds instead of referendum dollars. Bonds are paid off from the revenue generated from users of a particular service.

However, that doesn't mean pools might not play a major role come November.

Currently in the mix is building an outdoor, zero-depth wading pool for pre-school age children on the south side of the Community Center. But, like the play area and ice rink, revenue bonds are being targeted to pay for it.

"We would only add if it can pay its own way without taxpayer contributions," Lambert said Friday.

Also on the table, possibly as a separate referendum question, are two slightly different options that would deepen the existing indoor pool for the community's competitive swimming programs as well as add an indoor recreation pool. This would only be considered if the question calling for several improvements to the Community Center passes.

After a lengthy presentation, the council last week gave Lambert and his staff the go-ahead to further study all the possibilities he brought to them. For the next couple of weeks, they will put the finishing touches on final cost estimates and concept plans by gathering facts and feedback.

So far, plans call for a myriad of improvements to the Community Center, 16700 Valley View Road, and money is still earmarked for trail improvements, acquiring about four acres of land near Birch Island Woods, and expanding Flying Cloud Fields.

Added to the mix, though, are new park shelters and the possibility of moving around features at three neighborhood parks: Forest Hills, Edenvale and Prairie View. Acquiring additional land is also a possibility for Prairie View.

"We have a lot to do in this community that will cost a lot of money, and we can't do it all," Council member Ron Case said after Lambert's presentation. "But we live in a community where people would like us to do a lot. I feel real comfortable with all these things. … I think we would be somewhat doing a disservice if we don't proceed on all fronts at least to go on to the next step. There are lots of places to stop it along the way, but I think we need to proceed on it."

Council member Philip Young expressed some reservations with the initial wording of the motion concerning the Community Center improvements and revenue bond options, but changed his mind after it was softened from "approve the concept" to "further develop" the concept. He said the city must respect the lessons of last year's failed referendum and not rush into the process this year.

"The proposed action had an unfortunate connotation of finality when I think that the public feedback which has yet to (but will) occur as council deliberations are reported and as the city reaches out for citizen input on a potential referendum will be critical in defining the ultimate extent of any referendum," he said this week.

According to the timeline, a referendum recommendation will be in front of the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Commission by June 6, and at a joint workshop between the council and the parks commission on June 14.

A town meeting to discuss the proposed referendum will be June 22, and the parks commission will make its final recommendation to the council on June 27. With all that information in hand, the council will decide on July 5 if it wants to go forward or not.

"I think it's doable or I wouldn't have recommended it," Lambert said.

Community Center
Lambert told the council last week that proposed renovations to the Community Center are mostly what were proposed by a citizens committee last year – with a few differences, mainly the three projects that could be funded by revenue bonds.

For about $6.5 million earmarked in the referendum, Lambert said the city can build a gymnasium at the Community Center as well as expand its lobby, fitness room, locker rooms, and ice arena seating, in addition to adding a concession area and food court.

Lambert told council members he is unsure yet of the possible indoor play area's cost or size but touts it as a strong revenue bond possibility. He noted Edina was able to pay its indoor play area off after seven months.

Although the idea of a winter recreation area complete with skating rink in Round Lake or Staring Lake parks is still being eyed, Lambert offered a revenue bond possibility "that we ought to have in our back pocket."

It calls for putting a metal shed roof over an outdoor rink with a concrete floor on the north side of the Community Center to serve as the third ice rink coveted for years by the Eden Prairie Hockey Association. Lambert estimated it to cost about $2 million, with the hope the hockey association would provide some private dollars toward it.

On the possibility of using revenue bonds to fund an outdoor wading pool, Lambert pointed to Edina as an example again. When that city added a wading pool to its 50-year-old, 50-meter pool, he said the revenues helped not only pay the operating and construction costs but generated an extra $200,000 a year to add new components.

He believes the wading pool, which would be about three feet in its deepest point and be surrounded by lots of deck space, will end up being more successful if the city can offer some additional indoor recreational possibilities.

At first, deepening of the pool was to be heaped together with the other Community Center improvements, just like it was last year. But considering the pool is used by several kinds of people, Lambert and others were scratching their heads on how to meet all their needs.

For instance, competitive swim programs such as Foxjets, Aquajets and the high school team want the pool deeper and colder for practice and competitions. But recreational swimmers, mostly preschoolers who take part in lessons and seniors taking water aerobics classes, would rather have it shallower and warmer.

Although the competitive swimming programs in the city are arguably the best in the state, he said, there are 250 to 300 kids who participate in those compared to the 10,000 children who attend Eden Prairie schools.

"If we made the pool better for those 250 kids, that's a good thing for the 250 kids and for lap swimmers but it makes it a poorer pool for our recreational swimmers," he said.

So, the idea to deepen the pool and add an indoor recreational pool, similar to what is offered at the Chaska Community Center, was introduced.

"We should (only deepen the existing pool) if we provide a recreational pool (indoors)," he said. "If we provide a warmer water, zero-depth recreational pool where we can accommodate those younger swimmers, then we can go ahead and afford to make this a better competitive pool and deepen it."

There are actually two specific indoor pool options. One, which Lambert recommended because of its lower cost ($3.5 million), deepens the existing pool and adds the recreational pool. The second, which costs $5 million, would do that plus expand the competitive pool to 50 meters.

Both will be examined in the coming weeks.

"It's really in my opinion the right thing to do if you're talking about providing the same first-class facilities for swimmers, but whether or not we can do this I don't know," he said of the latter option.

Lambert admitted that recreational swimmers weren't willing to pay for last year's "elaborate outdoor pool plan." But he noted that several people in town meetings last year questioned spending so much money on a pool that would only be open three months a year.

"We hope the (indoor pool) design we propose where we have a glass wall and you feel like it's outdoors and have the outdoor deck space for sunbathing and the zero-depth pool for the little kids, maybe that would be a reasonable alternative," he said.

PROPOSAL at a glance
For the next five weeks, Parks Director Bob Lambert and his staff will sift through facts and gather feedback from residents, school officials and athletic association leaders as they put the finishing touches on the final cost estimates and concept plans for a parks referendum proposal.

Here are some of the possibilities that could end up on a referendum in November.

* Improvements to the Community Center, 16700 Valley View Road, including building a gymnasium, expanding locker rooms, and bulking up the lobby and fitness center.

* Exploring the possibility of funding a third rink addition, zero-depth outdoor wading pool and indoor play area (all at the Community Center) with revenue bonds, and in the ice rink’s case, donations from the EP Hockey Association.

* A separate referendum question that would call for deepening the existing indoor pool at the Community Center for competitive swimmers and adding an indoor pool with shallower, warmer water for recreational swimmers.

* The referendum would also provide money for trail improvements, expanding Flying Cloud Fields, acquiring land near Birch Island Woods, and making improvements at three neighborhood parks. Also suggested is adding some money to the referendum to replace various older playground structures around town.

Lambert will return back to the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Commission and City Council with the proposal for discussion in June. A final decision will be made by the council on July 5.

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