Consider land purchase over wrecking balls

Managing Editor

Protect what has already been bought and paid for with community’s blood, sweat and money

I’m not a fan of wrecking balls, but their need seems to be a prerequisite for land to be considered for the home of an Elk River community center.
The city of Elk River went to great lengths to ascertain what residents would like in a community center, and lately they have been focused on where to put a facility with amenities like ice rinks, a senior center, a banquet facility and large rooms for multiple uses.
They need at least 10 acres for the building, parking space and exterior support space as well as access to city services, such as sewer, water, gas and electric. This proved incredibly difficult, according to architect JLG Architects.
About six or seven sites met the criteria, and from there a shortlist of four was developed, including Oak Knoll Athletic Complex, Pinewood Golf, Lions Park and Orono Park. A fifth site — Elk River Golf Club — was considered.
To make Oak Knoll work, the varsity baseball field would have to be demolished and moved or the facility would have to be sandwiched behind it and before the smelly compost site, and it would have to work with the school district. Those talks didn’t even begin and this option was ruled out.
Pinewood was considered but clearly would not have been really popular, as it would have taken out a golf course the public — and the council — is still hopeful to resurrect.
Lions Park would be the most coveted site if it were not such a pile of mush under the green grass. It would take at least $3 million to correct the soils, and that’s if the city found a partner willing to donate good soil. Otherwise the price shoots up to $4.8 million or more, depending on the scope of the project.
And, perhaps most frustrating and talked about very little, three wildly popular amenities would be — you guessed it — demolished.
The Lions Park Center would come down. The Les Anderson Community Room, office space and a pavilion for picnics would come down.
A band shell used for events like concerts, Memorial Day programs and a community bible camp, which Elk River churches come together to put on each summer for area youth, would have to go.
And the sliding hill used for sliding in the winter, slip and slides in the summer and pumpkin rolls in the fall would be gone. That would be another expense, too, as the hill was created with rubble from a Highway 10 construction project.
This site was the Elk River City Council’s favorite site, given its central location in the community and closeness to Elk River High School where the current Elk River Ice Arena sits. They’re losing interest due to the high cost of soil correction.
A fifth site, the Elk River Golf Club, was considered. The city might be able to purchase it for a reasonable price, and it would be fitted between two of the city’s gems in Woodland Trails and the 18-hole golf course.
Only trouble is demolition of some of those assets would be needed — be it part of the park, the driving range or a couple of holes. If this wasn’t enough, it’s also far from services, and the closest infrastructure is not sized for such a project. This would translate to delays and added costs.
So, this gets us to the top choice at the moment. It’s Orono Park, and specifically the area where the Dave Anderson Athletic Complex is located.
City officials have been told they could replace it — and improve it by making bigger fields — at the Youth Athletic Complex in eastern Elk River.
We’re told Elk River Youth Baseball is ecstatic by city staff. They may be. That would be a pretty sweet complex. It should be done at some point — no matter what.
But is it wise to build it at the cost of shedding valuable field space? Does Elk River have enough field space? I would suggest not, and the demands for it are only increasing as new sports like lacrosse clamor for space to play.
The community center will no sooner be built and there be another group wanting a place for pickle ball. It’s apparently the rage in communities like Maple Grove and Andover, and there’s already a growing group of enthusiasts in Elk River.
It’s not time to take things down, without careful consideration of options that don’t necessitate wrecking balls and park lands in the same discussion.
Maybe sites have already been examined and ruled out, but that hasn’t been made clear. I see lots of 10-plus-acre sites along Highway 10 available, and I would bet there are some not exactly on highway frontage available, too.
Now maybe lack of city services is the dilemma. But costing them out, to me, would be as wise as costing out soil corrections to the tune of $5 million, give or take a few million, or $1.2 million to replace what blood, sweat and money have already bought. I didn’t mention tears, but those would come when the wrecking ball comes.
I remember when the city spent a half million dollars to save the Elk River High School Little Theater. Elk River High School was building a new auditorium that would be named Zabee Theater, and it was about to be knocked down.
That continues to be used extensively by the school and the community for everything from plays and the first-ever Ivan Sand Community High School prom.
I hope Elk River realizes a community center and I hope the Youth Athletic Complex becomes all it can be, but I hope it can be done without shedding any tears when a wrecking ball finishes up its work. — Jim Boyle, editor