by Logan Gruber
On April 6, the city council chose to approve and move forward on the documents presented by Tom Schaffer of USAquatics, an aquatic consulting and design firm out of Delano, on behalf of the water amenity committee. USAquatics has created water amenities for other cities, including Gaylord and Owatonna.
The next step will involve further designs, including 3D-modeling of the possible water amenity, as well as site research and soil testing. The estimated cost of the next step in this process is $71,000. The motion was approved 3-2, with council members Renee Symanietz and Bob Loso dissenting.
Early on in the council meeting, during the public comment portion, former council member Steve Frank stepped forward to offer his opinion on the subject. Frank said the survey the water amenity committee had conducted was not scientific, and did not represent a true sample of the city. The survey, consisting of 823 respondents, included residents of the city, students at the College of St. Benedict and residents outside of the city. Frank felt since college students typically are not around as much during the summer, when the usage of an outdoor water facility is at its peak, their responses don’t hold as much weight.
Frank also questioned the use of USAquatics as the consultant on this project, as USAquatics also participates in design and construction of water facilities.
“I did not say we don’t design, I said our design doesn’t lock you into using us [for construction management],” Schaffer later rebutted.
Resident Margy Hughes also stepped up to the podium to speak during the public-comment period.
“June, July and August is a very small window of use…when we fall below the projected use, all of the maintenance is going to fall on the city,” Hughes said.
In the documents presented by USAquatics, the outdoor facility would typically be open from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and was projected to have 78 days of use per year.
Jen Warnert, local resident and original splash-pad-committee founder, spoke in favor of the design. She was pleased with the direction the project had taken since it began.
“We want to keep the momentum going,” Warnert said.
The concept Schaffer presented was quite complex. Included were: a multi-use pool with one- and three-meter diving boards; grassy lounge areas; a lazy river; three water slides; rental tents; water geysers and an aqua fort on a splash pad; a covered seating area; changing rooms; a concession stand; and shade structures.
Schaffer said the design he was showing included heated water and a zip line.
“There are only two zip lines in the state, and they have very long lines,” Schaffer said.
USAquatics thinks a water amenity like they are recommending would draw from a 30-mile radius.
Schaffer said a tentative opening date would be set for Memorial Day 2016, if the council approved the plan. He also said the committee felt they could raise funds for about $1.1 million of the $6.14-million price tag.
The preferred site chosen by the committee was north of Hwy 75, on CR 133.
Mayor Rick Schultz wondered whether having the water amenity north of Hwy 75 might pose a problem for pedestrian traffic, as 60 to 70 percent of the population lies south of Hwy 75.
Schaffer said the position of Hwy 75 did factor into the committee’s decision, but the northern location had the best combination of other factors to make it attractive.
Schultz brought up another good point, regarding the atmosphere of the city.
“If we become a three-month destination, we need to look at the evolution of our town and how it will effect our small-town feel,” Schultz said.
Schultz also asked if there was any correlation between other cities’ water amenities and the growth of downtown businesses and other businesses, as that could be a deciding factor.
Schaffer said Willmar and other cities do use their water amenities as a recruitment tool to attract both businesses and residents.
Council member Bob Loso noted the survey which Frank commented on earlier had a lot of negative comments attached to it.
“Surveys can be skewed, depending on how you present them,” Loso noted.
He would like the concerns in the comments addressed at some point or another in the process.
Before the vote was taken, Schultz noted he would like to have one or two open houses held, for people to come in and comment on the issue. The dates of those open houses will be released later.
As was noted earlier, the recommendation was accepted, and while the process will move forward, community input is still sought by the city.