Elk River looks at projects to sustain parks, recreation system

by Joni Astrup

Associate editor

Elk River has more than 900 acres of parks and some aging park and recreation facilities, and the city is looking at a hefty price tag to sustain it all over time.

During a June 11 work session with the City Council, Elk River Parks and Recreation Director Michael Hecker outlined a long list of potential capital projects foreseen to sustain the city’s parks and recreation system.

The Elk River Ice Arena, located next to Elk River High School.

The list ranged from $4.5 to $10.4 million to improve and renovate the Elk River Ice Arena, to a host of smaller projects including parking lots, restrooms, field lighting, playground equipment, trail maintenance and dugout roofs.

Total estimated cost of the list of improvements is, at a minimum, at least $10 million.

“It kind of scares me,” Mayor John Dietz said. “We brag about all the parks we have in Elk River, but maybe we shouldn’t be bragging about what kind of shape they’re in. It sounds like we have a lot of work to do.”

Hecker acknowledged that there are a lot of different needs, but noted that the list he went over is meant to be the beginning of a process to prioritize those needs.

A capital improvement plan is one tool the city uses to prioritize projects. Hecker said a more extensive park comprehensive plan will also be required to assess the current status of Elk River’s parks and recreation services and analyze strengths, opportunities and future needs. The last park comprehensive plan was done in 1997 and Hecker said it is outdated.

Even small items like water fountains need atttention over time. This one in Orono Park will be replaced this year.

“I think what that (plan) will do is help us set priorities for the park system overall,” Hecker told the council.

He intends to recommend that a park comprehensive plan be included in the city’s 2013 budget.

City Administrator Cal Portner noted that many of the items listed by Hecker are already in the city’s capital improvement plan and are “on the radar.”

“We’re not in a panic mode because things are in very serviceable condition but we don’t want them to go backwards, either,” Portner added.

Here are a few of the items Hecker touched on in his broad overview of potential impending park needs:

•Improve/renovate Elk River Ice Arena: $4.5 million to $10.4 million

•Upgrade irrigation system at Pinewood Golf Course: $400,000

This field at Orono Park is one without dugout roofs.

•Clubhouse/maintenance improvements at Pinewood Golf Course: $1–$2.1 million for a clubhouse with a 100- to 500-person banquet facility. New golf course maintenance facility: $180,000.

•Replace the existing skate park at Lions Park with a concrete skate park: $120,000–$160,000

•Replace an aging, 25-year-old playground at Orono Park (playgrounds typically have about a 20-year life) with a possible “destination playground”: up to $250,000

•Build restrooms at Orono Park: $200,000

•Install a parking lot at Bailey Point, a piece of land by the Elk and Mississippi rivers: $77,000

•Light four fields at the Youth Athletic Complex: $475,000

•Install dugout roofs at the Orono, Kuss and Oak Knoll fields: $60,000.

“The list of assets and needed improvements can seem endless with over 900 acres of parks and aging facilities, but it can be managed with a plan that can be developed with a focus on priorities and approaches to funding,” Hecker wrote in a memo to the council.