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East Grand Forks’ revised parks and rec wish list: $37.4 million

East Grand Forks committee members and consultants on Tuesday unveiled to City Council members a sweeping list of proposed renovations to the city's ice arenas and ballfields that's the most

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A plan presented by city staff, committee members, and consultants would transform the East Grand Forks Civic Center. Eric Hylden / Grand Forks Herald
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An East Grand Forks panel presented to City Council members on Tuesday an updated – and ambitious – slate of hoped-for upgrades to the city’s ice arenas and ballfields.

City consultants put together a $37.4 million plan for the East Grand Forks Civic Center, the VFW Arena, the Blue Line Club Arena, and baseball fields at Stauss Park and Fitzwilliams Park, which adjoins the Civic Center.

At the Civic Center, the draft proposal suggests an eye-catching grandstand that would adjoin the center and overlook a new high school baseball diamond. Between them would sit a shared main entryway and lobby, and the Civic Center’s existing entryway would be turned into a viewing area that overlooks the center’s ice rink. Also proposed: two more youth ballfields, several new locker rooms, plus renovated office and storage spaces.

At the VFW and Blue Line Club Arena, consultants proposed constructing a similar viewing area between the two buildings, plus further renovations to the VFW’s locker rooms and other infrastructure.

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'Enhancements'

But a lot of those changes are labeled “enhancements” instead of the less-glamorous work some of the arenas need, such as a new ice plant, revamped mechanical systems or renovations to bring them in line with the Americans with Disabilities Act. That work is labeled “deferred maintenance” in the consultant’s report, and it totals an estimated $20.8 million, $18.7 of which would be spent on upgrades at the Civic Center and VFW. Enhancements, as presented to council members on Tuesday, totaled $16.5 million.

City staff presented to council members in August 2020 a report that estimated the “base priority” work needed at the Civic Center and VFW would total about $11 million – a figure that’s about $7.7 million smaller than the one presented this week. Reid Huttunen, the city’s parks and recreation superintendent, told the Herald on Tuesday that the 2020 report was based on construction figures from 2019, but otherwise he wasn’t sure why the price would nonetheless increase by $7.7 million.

Latest iteration

The report was put together in conjunction with East Grand Forks’ Building Committee, a 10-member panel of parks and rec commissioners, sports organizers and other Eastside residents. Before they presented the consultant’s proposal, several committee members told council members about the importance of youth sports and their memories of it. The proposal put forth Tuesday also considers surveys and other community inputs.

“This plan, really, is the results of our surveys,” Huttunen said, “the things that were most important to be involved in it, what people wanted to see fixed, where they wanted things to be.”

It’s also considerably more expensive than others floated by city staff and officials.

In November 2019, city consultants put together a $24 million plan to add a second sheet of ice to the Civic Center and turn the VFW into an all-season fieldhouse.

That plan was later added alongside others to renovate the Stauss Park fields, upgrade a small network of city trails, and pay for several upgrades and fix-ups at LaFave Park. City Council members tentatively planned to pay for that work with a 2% sales tax, but that idea was scuppered by skeptical Minnesota lawmakers , who need to sign off on new sales taxes, and, later, by the COVID-19 pandemic .

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City staff and consultants later narrowed the city’s parks and recs needs to the $13.4 million list of “base priority” work needed at the Civic Center, VFW and Stauss.

Council members on Tuesday weren’t asked or required to take any action on the $37.4 million plan. The plan itself also offers no suggestions for financing and is still well removed from a construction timetable or other concrete plans.

"At this point, it's sharing the concept with the community to get their feedback," Huttunen told the Herald. "There will have to be a lot more discussion about funding sources and how much we can afford for it to cost and where it all comes from."

Council member Dale Helms, a frequent skeptic of city spending proposals and the owner of a local busing company, only wondered if bus access had been considered. He said he didn’t challenge the price tag on Tuesday because the presentation was strictly informational.

“It was nothing really official as far as dollars or anything like that,” Helms told the Herald. “There’s a lot of wish list involved in that whole thing.”

In related news, council members informally considered a proposal to recognize, in some form or fashion, Indigenous Peoples Day, a holiday recognizing American Indians that has sometimes replaced Columbus Day, a holiday recognizing the Italian colonizer whose legacy in the Caribbean has drawn increasing public scrutiny.

The holiday was adopted in Grand Forks in 2019 and recognized by Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz that same year.

Related Topics: GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

You can reach him at:
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