Luxton and Matthews parks and the Washburn Avenue tot lot were supposed to get playground renovations next year. Phelps Park was to get a wading pool replacement. Lyndale Farmstead and Painter parks were slated for building improvements.
But those and 12 other projects would be put off a year as part of a revamped proposal by Minneapolis Park Superintendent Jayne Miller.
Miller wants to use that money instead to replace a site that pulverizes downed trees, pay off the debt of an athletic complex outside the city, revive an indoor pool in the Phillips community and pay for overruns on older projects.
Her recommended delays come as the Park and Recreation Board is preparing to ask taxpayers to vote for more money for neighborhood parks.
Miller said shifting priorities are part of the budgeting process and she has a duty to be fiscally responsible.
For the Matthews playground at 2318 28th Av. S., Miller’s recommended delay would be the second postponement of equipment replacement. That delay means potential costs increases for the playground, from $150,000 this year to $197,500 in 2017, when adjusted for inflation. A $600,000 project to replace a 45-year-old wading pool at Matthews also has been pushed back a year.
“I’m not thrilled about anything being postponed,” Commissioner Scott Vreeland said. “That’s something that’s been in the hopper for a while.”
But he said he recognizes that many pieces make up the park system’s building program and that there’s room to debate priorities.
Matthews actually has three playgrounds. One on the south side serves preschoolers, and two are close to Seward Montessori School and get heavy student use.
The playgrounds’ last major upgrade came in 1994. But safety and accessibility standards have changed since then, affecting spacing and height of equipment and the material under equipment, according to Kate Lamers, project manager.
For example, sand will be replaced with wood fiber under equipment because it gives a better bounce in falls and doesn’t deteriorate plastic coatings the way sand does.
In addition, the project will replace some equipment built in 2009 that left area parents unhappy and had safety issues that resulted in slides being removed. Despite the delays, “I think people are just happy it’s going to be done,” said Kerry Cashman, community coordinator for Seward Neighborhood Group.
The delays will move up other projects deemed more pressing. For example, $350,000 is being set aside for a new wood processing facility that Miller said is needed because the current site near Minnehaha Park now has nearby veterans housing. A bigger example is a $5.46 million swimming center at Phillips Community Center. Although much of the money is coming from state borrowing, city schools and private fundraising, the park district still needs to fill a $661,000 gap to meet a state deadline.
Some diverted money is going to cover overruns at other recent park renovations: $20,000 at Bethune, $150,000 at McRae, and $208,000 at Minnehaha that will be redirected from other projects for the next four years.
But the biggest hit causing the delayed projects is an accounting shift Miller has proposed. That involves the Neiman Sports Complex at Fort Snelling, which has nearly $3.2 million remaining to be paid on the $17 million borrowed to develop it for athletic field rental.
Rather than use a special fund created by moneymaking enterprises such as golf, parking and special events, Miller wants to use the park system’s capital budget. That crowds out some neighborhood projects, but the extra money in the special fund could allow for more spending on golf.
Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438