East Grand Forks leaders were presented on Tuesday, Aug. 11, with an updated list of renovations to the city’s ice arenas and ball fields.
City staff synthesized a sweeping $24 million proposal to address problems at the city’s ice arenas with the results of a June survey that indicated Eastside residents prefer less ambitious renovations to the city’s parks and recreation facilities. The result is a $13.42 million list of ideas to upgrade the baseball fields at Stauss Park and fix the most pressing problems at the East Grand Forks Civic Center and VFW Memorial Arena, supplemented by several other, less-pressing projects that could tack on millions more.
“It has to start like this,” Mayor Steve Gander said as he held his hands apart.
"Then you kind of sift it down,” he said, moving his hands closer. “You look at everything that would be good to have and you identify your top priorities.”
At the core of the list is an estimated $3.4 million to replace the ailing ice plants at the two arenas. Both are decades old and use r22, a refrigerant that is in shorter and shorter supply after an Obama-era Environmental Protection Order made it illegal to produce in or import to the United States.
Beyond that, other “base priority” work includes $940,000 to make both buildings generally safer and comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and $3.27 million to reconstruct their parking lots. In all, that work would cost an estimated $11 million dollars in 2021, city staff said, and the consulting engineering firm suggested assuming that figure will rise 3% each year.
At Stauss Park, the city could add synthetic turf, build a covered grandstand or install new dugouts and benches, among a $2.42 million list of ideas there.
But city leaders could go bigger and more expensive: After hearing from residents, Huttunen also presented council members with a $1.66 million estimate to connect the VFW with the adjacent Blue Line Arena, $2.65 million to add more locker rooms to the Civic Center and $520,000 to install a dehumidification system that would allow the VFW to have ice rinks there in the summer.
But that list of options is closer to a menu than a to-do list. Some, which came from survey responses, would be at odds with one another: a dehumidification system to facilitate warm-weather icetime at the VFW wouldn’t gel with a $310,000 idea to install field turf there.
Prompted by the looming demise of the arenas’ two refrigeration systems, East Grand Forks leaders have been kicking around ways to upgrade both buildings, and other parks and recreation facilities, for months and months.
The plan, in broad terms, has been to pay for those plans with a new sales tax and, perhaps, some private donations. But the sales tax idea isn’t going anywhere for a while because the Minnesota Legislature, which would need to sign off on a new sales tax before the city could implement it, did not consider either of the ones the city sent to St. Paul this spring.