Hermann Hillside panel picks three-wall option to recommend to city council

Staff photo by Clay Schuldt The Hermann Hillside Stabilization panel is recommending a three-wall option to replace the current Kasota Stone walls that have been moving and shifting over the years.

NEW ULM — The Hermann Heights Hillside Stabilization committee held its final meeting, Tuesday.

The committee is prepared to make a recommendation to the New Ulm City Council to replace the current wall on Hermann Hillside with a three-wall option.

The lowest wall will abut the sidewalk and extends 460 feet parallel to Center Street and only run partway to Summit Avenue. The maximum height of this wall is six feet. It will feature a curved turn-in to match the Martin Luther College side.

The mid-wall will be ten feet back from the lower wall and extend 216 feet at a maximum height of four feet.

The top wall will be ten feet away from the mid-wall and extend 185 feet with a maximum height of four feet.

Based on previous meetings, the stones used for the project will be beveled with a color matching the current Kasota stone color.

Ground cover plants will hide the top of each wall. Low evergreen shrubs at the end of each wall will keep pedestrians out and native wildflower seeding will be planted in-between the walls.

This option was the second wall design considered by the committee. The fifth option was also considered as an alternative. Option five is nearly the same, but the plan has the lower wall extend 190 feet further down toward Summit Avenue.

The committee received cost estimates for both. Option two is estimated to cost $461,637.50 and option five is estimated at $573,080.00.

The extra cost in option five was due to the new wall material. Park and Recreation Director Tom Schmitz said demolition and removal is identical no matter which option is taken.

The question of whether Reinvest in New Ulm (RENU) should be used on this project was discussed. The city council previously discussed scheduling RENU improvements to Hermann Heights parking lot and roadway to take place at the same time the retaining wall is built to reduce costs and only shut Center Street down once.

City Attorney Roger Hippert said the funds could be used for this project, because one of the RENU projects was for improvements to Hermann Heights Park.

Schmitz argued against using RENU funds for the wall. He said, “the authorized RENU projects are going to need every bit of $14.8 million that are legislatively authorized.”

No formal recommendation on RENU funding could be made as it was not on the committee’s agenda.

Committee member Gigi Rysdahl asked if the current wall could be fortified, or rebuilt with existing material.

City Engineer Steve Koehler said the current wall is a gravity-style built in 1970. A lot of groundwater is hitting the base of the wall, which it was not designed to handle. This has caused the wall to move over time.

Koehler said the wall will eventually flop over or collapse from the bottom. “I think it is prudent to do it now, it’s never going to be less expensive,” he said.

Schmitz said he did research claims that selling the Kasota stone would pay for the new wall. In September, Schmitz emailed area contractors and landscape companies to ask if they wanted the limestone blocks. He received four responses, all indicated the stone was not worth salvaging.

“Nobody is willing to pay the city to take those blocks away,” Schmitz said.

The wall recommendation will become before the city council for final approval on Tuesday, Aug. 6.