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City approves rec center, Hermann parking lot improvement designs

NEW ULM — The conceptual designs for two RENU projects — the recreation center and Hermann Heights park parking lot improvements — were approved by the City Council Tuesday.

The designs were previously recommended by the Reinvest in New Ulm (RENU) committee.

JLG Architects representative and recreation center design team member Linda McCracken-Hunt gave a summary of the design phase for the recreation center.

The designs for the recreation center require an addition on the south side of the existing building. This addition would be the new aquatics center. The indoor playground would also be constructed in this new section. The former indoor pool would be renovated to include the gymnastics center. The space has the necessary clearance needed for a gymnastics facility. 

The construction management firm RJM proposed to construct the facility in phases. The new pool, new entry/lobby and fitness area would be part of the first phase. The current field house entrance could still be used during construction. The community would have the use of a pool throughout project construction.

The gymnastics center would be part of the second phase. Phase three would include locker rooms, gymnastic support, and a new main entrance. 

The construction budget is estimated at $9.5 million. McCraken-Hunt said it was a goal to stay within the budgeted amount. 

Councilor Larry Mack said the design committee worked on this design for six months. It originally was estimated at $20 million, but the committee cut costs in half.

City Manager Chris Dalton said the project was all additions. No amenities will be lost at the recreation center. Racketball courts and basketball courts will remain. 

Dalton said staff, JLG and the design committee did a great job of putting everything together without losing anything the city already had.

McCracken-Hunt said they are still refining documents to bid in the winter and start construction in the spring.

Councilor David Christian made the motion to approve the recreation center improvements, with a second from Mack. 

The motion was unanimously approved.

The design for the new Hermann Heights parking lot moves the Monument Street entrance further west on Center Street to improve sightlines for drivers. The paved parking lot would be installed in the field near this new entrance. 

The design would eliminate green space for the park, but with the relocation of Monument Street, sections of the road would be replaced by new tree plantings. The relocation of the road will require the removal of 33 mature trees.

A second smaller parking lot would be installed closer to the playground and northern shelter.

The plan would create 89 regular parking stalls, four handicapped stalls, and room for three coach buses.

City Manager Chris Dalton said this improvement would ensure people visiting Hermann Heights were not parking in a dirt lot. The design of the new parking lot would exemplify the park’s status as a destination park.

“This park draws tourism here,” he said.

The downside of the plan was the removal of mature trees. The plan called for planting new trees to replace those lost, but the new trees will take years to mature.

Dalton said this project was about change for the better. The smaller replacement trees will grow in time and replace those lost. 

“We’re changing this park from a dirt parking lot and looking at traffic safety all in one,” Dalton said. “It is my opinion and the staff’s opinion to move forward with the concept as proposed because it meets the needs of the community and turns the park into a bigger destination than it currently is.”

The tree commission submitted a letter against the plan to remove mature trees. Commission member Lisa Langer attended the meeting and said the tree commission learned of the tree removal recently through the newspaper. The city had not contacted the commission in regards to the plan.

Langer was against removing 21 mature oak trees. She questioned whether the parking lot needed this many spaces.

“It seems preposterous to me that this is a city park and we will be cutting down beautiful legacy trees,” Langer said.

Community Development Director David Schnobrich said a master plan for the park was developed in 2009. One of the goals was to provide parking for 75 cars, but also to preserve as many trees as possible. Schnobrich said there was no good option for parking in this area. He described it as a balancing act.

Schnobrich said the design presented to the council was a concept. The next step is a detailed plan, which could increase the number of trees in the park if possible.

Council president Charlie Schmitz favored moving forward with the design. He said the Hermann Monument is going to be part of New Ulm for centuries to come and the new trees will grow back. Schmitz advised against building around trees.

Mack made the motion to approve the Hermann Heights parking lot design. Councilor Lisa Fischer seconded the motion. Fischer apologized to the tree commission for not involving them in the discussion earlier. She said considering the number of trees being removed, the city should have taken input from the tree commission.

The motion passed unanimously. 

The estimated construction cost for the Hermann parking lot is $780,059.50. This estimate does not incorporate the Hermann retaining wall improvements recently approved by the city but they could be added later.

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The council accepted a federal grant offer for airport improvements. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is offering a $31,516 grant for wildlife hazard assessment and taxi line reconstruction design services. 

Following a public hearing, Green Mill & Best Western Plus was granted a noise variance for the Rocktoberfest-Oktoberfest event. This annual event is held in the parking lot adjacent to the Green Mill & Best Western Plus.

The variance is for 5 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 4; Saturday, Oct. 5, Friday, Oct. 11, and Saturday, Oct. 12. 

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