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Committee opts for modular blocks for Hermann Heights retaining wall project

Artstone option considered too uncertain for size of project

NEW ULM — The Herman Heights Hillside Stabilization Committee reviewed retaining wall materials and planting options, Friday.

The committee was formed last year to determine the best way to re-landscape the hillside leading up to the monument. The Kasota-stone limestone retaining wall currently in place in the park along Center Street has become a safety hazard for groundskeepers and park visitors. The wall is falling down in places during rain. The wall requires ongoing maintenance and repairs.

The city was presented with several options to alter the hillside, but could not determine the best option. An independent committee was created to review various options.

In May, the committee decided to move forward with a modular block wall and keep Artstone panel wall as an alternate option. In the month since the meeting, cost estimates for the panel wall option had risen.

The costs of installing a panel wall from Artstone was unknown because there were few examples of this work, but installation cost was estimated at 30 percent higher and engineering of the panel wall were expected to run $60,000 to $70,000.

In addition, since the panel option for a retaining wall had not been attempted, the committee was reluctant to spend money on an untested option.

Committee member GiGI Rysdahl said the committee wanted to work with a local firm but it was too big a project to be unsure. The committee decided to move forward with only the modular block option.

The committee reviewed several block options. John Knisely said the fancier the block the higher the cost. The committee made no official decision on block type.

In addition to the wall, the committee wanted to use plantings in between the new retaining walls to reduce mowing maintenance and for aesthetics. The committee members presented six planting options. The most popular options used native wildflowers planted between the walls.

New Ulm City Planner John Knisely said the benefits of this option were the low cost to seed the planting areas, low maintenance, benefited pollinating species, offered greater variety in flowers and could easily be replaced if the city wanted to try different plantings.

Assistant City Engineer Joe Stadheim provided an alternative version of this option that includes ground covering, like geraniums, which could cover the hard edge of the walls.

Hedges could be placed at the end of the top wall as a safety precaution preventing people from walking over the ledge.

The committee discussed keeping the cost for this project down. Originally Park and Recreation staff recommended removing all retaining walls and slope the hillside at a cost of $260,000. An alternative option was presented that matched the Martin Luther College hillside across the street, but this option was estimated to cost $584,675.

The committee was formed to consider other options.

Rysdahl commented that any recommendation they made might not be approved by the city council. Rysdahl was also concerned the cost of the hill could impact the Reinvest in New Ulm (RENU) projects at Vogel Fieldhouse.

City Engineer Steve Koehler said the bids for the RENU fieldhouse projects would likely come in around the same time as the bids for Hermann hillside.

Improvements to the Hermann Heights parking lot and roadway are part or the RENU projects. The city council is trying to schedule the Hermann RENU project to happen at the same time as the hillside improvements. City Attorney Roger Hippert said the wall could be interpreted as a part of RENU, meaning money from RENU could be used for the hill. However, RENU money was limited.

Hippert said if RENU money goes into the wall and cost increases, something else from RENU might be cut.

The July Hermann Hillside meeting will finalize the planting proposal and decision on block type of the wall.

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