Pine Island planners address possible population boom
This is Pine Island's time to grow.
Rod Steele, who was elected mayor in November, said that between the impact of Mayo Clinic's Destination Medical Center and the growth the city hopes to see from Elk Run development, the city is poised for an unprecedented boom.
"It would surprise me if we didn't double our population in 10 years," Steele said.
But like any growth, it will certainly come with pain.
As Pine Island readies for expansion, the city already faces infrastructure challenges. The town's swimming pool needs to be brought up to Americans with Disabilities Act standards. The one-building school district is bursting with students in grades kindergarten through 12. And ongoing street projects keep the city in orange cones.
"The library is also running out of space," said Karen Doll, executive director of the Pine Island EDA. "Speaking in broad terms, these are all challenges the community faces."
Unfortunately, there is no way the city can afford all these seven- and eight-figure projects at one time, she said.
This, then, is where the Community Planning Team has entered Pine Island's landscape. Formed last fall and with its first public idea meeting held last January, the team consists of school superintendent Tamara Berg-Beniak and three members of the school board, Steele and two members of the city council, Doll and two members of the EDA, and representatives from the townships of Milton, New Haven, Oronoco, Pine Island and Roscoe. Doll said that with members of the Pine Island park and library boards added, non-public meetings can top out at 17 members.
The team was created after the school board approached the city and EDA to ask about discussing the city's issues.
"We all agreed it was a good idea," Doll said. "The Community Planning Team serves as a clearinghouse of ideas."
But with all those civic leaders meeting monthly to discuss the future of Pine Island, the one thing the team doesn't have, Doll said, is power. The team cannot levy taxes. It has no authority.
"We're not even prioritizing things," Doll said. "We're creating awareness as to what is going on in all the areas of the community, trying to look at the big picture."
Sharing the wealth
That big picture includes several large projects. And if one decides to spend big without looking at the other projects, Doll said, it would create ripple effects throughout the community.
"If all the money is spent on one project, it impacts on the others," she said.
Of course, some projects will be a bigger priority to the community than others.
"In my mind, the school, it's the No. 1 priority," said Steele. "That doesn't relieve the need for the pool and frontage roads, but it is the cornerstone of the community. I think the school is No. 1 by a long shot."
Still, other projects matter. Berg-Beniak pointed to the cramped library and its need for expansion. One of the ideas that has come from the Community Planning Team is to include an expanded public library with a new school building.
Berg-Beniak said some members of the team even went to Pipestone to tour a city library that was built as part of a school building.
"We can create some synergy here and really work together," she said.
While the idea of a library and school combination is appealing, Berg-Beniak said, it is important to remember that Pine Island has voted down bonding measures for a new school several times.
"My priority is the school while being very cognizant of the community," she said.
Deciding the future
While Doll believes the Community Planning Team is simply a place to share information and brainstorm, Steele said the group will eventually need to offer some help to those bodies — the city council or the school board — tasked with choosing the path to Pine Island's future.
"I would expect someone will ask the Community Planning Team to make recommendations," the mayor said. "Will it be unanimous? I don't think so."
The bigger question is how will the work put forth by the Community Planning Team affect the city's plans?
"It doesn't matter," said Megan Park, a Pine Island resident who attends many civic meetings. "If we don't like what they recommend, we can vote against it."
Park said the team will obviously have some influence, but in the end, it's the job of the voters to decide whether or not to support a new school or swimming pool.
The city council and school board will need a consensus on what projects should be tackled first. This month, the school board hired an architect and construction firm — at no cost — to evaluate its needs and make recommendations for construction. The park board, meanwhile, has been working with a pool builder to determine how to bring the city's swimming pool up to ADA code and perhaps make the pool a little more modern. And work continues on road projects—the east frontage road for Highway 52 with its roundabout chief among them—with more projects such as changes to 125th Street in south Pine Island on the radar.
"What you've got is all the different perspectives," Steele said of the Community Planning Team's make up. The diversity of the group, he said, will add to the credibility of whatever recommendations the team gives.
"It's not the school board vs. the city. It's the school board and the city," Steele said. "For a small city like Pine Island, that's outstanding."
School Board – District 255
Tammy Berg-Beniak (staff)
Pine Island EDA Board
Karen Doll (staff)
City of Pine Island
Rod Steele, mayor
Jerry Vettel, council member
Morgan Hansen, Van Horn Library director
Joel Knox, Park Board chairman
Madge Alberts, Milton
Dale Thomforde, New Haven
Mark Thein, Oronoco
Richard Miller, Pine Island
Gale Hoven, Roscoe