Planning panel: Hermann Heights hillside should match MLC

NEW ULM — The Park and Recreation Commission changed its recommendation for the Hermann Heights hillside stabilization project. The majority of the commission is now supporting a landscaping option that matches the Martin Luther College hillside.

The hillside stabilization project has come before the city council three times in the last year.

The Kasota-Stone limestone retaining wall in Hermann Heights Park along Center Street has become a safety hazard for groundskeepers and park visitors. The wall is falling down in places during rain events. The frequent repairs require ongoing maintenance and repairs.

In April, the Park and Recreation Commission recommended the council hire Bolton and Menk, Inc., to design and bid out the project. At this time, the city is divided over which design to approve.

Four options were presented to the council. The first two options received the most interest.

The first option is a grass slope similar to the hill near the Diocese of New Ulm property on 5th North Street. This is the lowest cost option at $260,000. Staff informed the commission this option would be safer and maintainable at less cost to the city. However, members of the council have shown a preference for the second option. This option would landscape the hillside to match the Martin Luther College hillside on the opposite side of Center Street. The cost of this second option is $584,675 which is $300,000 more than the grass slope option.

Park and Director Tom Schmitz said there were $200,000 budgeted for this project in 2018. All four projects are estimated to be higher than funds budgeted.

Schmitz brought the issue back to the parks commission to determine if they had a new recommendation for the council. The commission previously recommended the grass sloped option.

Commission Chair Toby Freier understood the aesthetic value for the second option, but considering the other budget needs in Park and Rec and across New Ulm as a whole, he believes the first option was the most cost effective. He said extra money needed to invest in other options had to come from somewhere and it would force a trade-off in another part of the system.

Commissioner David Christian said the feedback he has received shows people want to see the project done right rather than part way and then improved later.

Commissioner Leroy Flor, Jr., wants to stay with the first option because the extra costs would need to come from the parks budget or be added to the tax payer levy.

Commissioner Melanie Griebel favored the second option as long as Park & Rec was not forced to foot the entire bill. Griebel had concerns that if the hill was sloped, kids would sled down it in winter and slide into Center Street.

Commissioner Jim Bastian motioned to recommend the second option. The motion passed 3-2, with Freier and Flor voting against.

The motion will be passed on to the city council.

Fee Schedule

The commission recommended the adoption of the 2019 Park & Rec fee schedule as presented, with changes to Johnson and Mueller park fees.

Schmitz said the fee schedule has been available for review for the last month. The only comments he received were from the New Ulm Baseball Association (NUBA) and operators of the Brewers amateur baseball team. Their concerns were the high fees for field usage.

Schmitz suggested adding a volume discount to make the Brewers team eligible. The team was ineligible in the past.

The discount would be 8 percent for 12 to 29 games per year at Johnson and Mueller Parks.

Another option was to consider no increase for Johnson and Mueller Park fees.

Flor said any discount would be better than nothing, but said it’s possible the team won’t even get to 12 games.

Bastian said neither Marshall nor Waseca charge field rent for amateur baseball teams. Hutchinson charges $40 for a day game and $90 for a night game but State Tournament fees are waived.

In 2018 the use of Johnson and Mueller park cost $72 per game in the day. A night game cost $172. With the fee increase the cost becomes $74 for a day game and $174 for a night game.

With the 8 percent discount the cost would drop to $68 per day game and $160 for a night game.

Assistant City Manager Cheryl Kormann gave a report on MVL’s use of the fields. In 2016, MVL played 12 games on the field, but in 2017 and 2018 they were under the 12 game discount number.

Commissioner Gene Slettedahl made a motion to recommend the fees for Johnson and Mueller Park not be increased for 2019 and the 8 percent discount be added for 12 to 29 games.

The motion passed with a single no vote from Commissioner Griebel.

Later in the meeting, the commission approved the 2019 Park and Rec requested preliminary budget.

The budget summary stated the department had $3.6 million in operating/capital expenses and $1.1 in fee related revenue. This left $2.5 in needed tax revenue from local and state sources.

The preliminary city budget is set in September. The city has the option of making changes before the end of the year.

RENU Update

The commission received a Reinvest in New Ulm (RENU) update. A design proposal was recommended for the Johnson Park improvements.

The Hermann Heights improvements request for proposals have been submitted. The bids for the project are scheduled to be opened Oct. 3.

Schmitz said the gymnastic organizations have verbally committed to renting the proposed Gymnastic Center on a regular basis.

The Dome Location Study continues. The Brown County Fair Board has said they are not interested in locating the dome at the fairgrounds. New discussion has started with Martin Luther College to locate the dome on or near their campus.