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Aquatic center without golf course impact gets Rochester council nod

Rochester City Council supports plan for new facility with alternative to relocate planned shelter and play area in Soldiers Field Park.

Alternative concept 1.jpg
An alternative concept design for a new Soldiers Field aquatics park would move the location of a planned shelter and nature play area to avoid golf course changes.
Contributed / City of Rochester
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ROCHESTER — A plan to build a Soldiers Field Park aquatic center without changes to the nearby golf course received Rochester City Council support Monday.

“It seems there is no opposition to it, and other (concept) does have opposition,” he said of the plan to replace the existing pool with a variety of water amenities.

The concept presented as a preferred option by community members that helped identify needs would add a shelter and play area west of the park, which would require encroaching on the golf course and moving at least one tee position.

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The alternative concept supported by the council, as well as the city's Park Board , moves the shelter and play area northwest of the pool, along the west side of George Gibbs Drive.

Both proposals reviewed Monday maintain the aquatic center with a 50-meter pool, water slides, a lazy river, a wading pool, a splash pad and related amenities and infrastructure.

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“Basically everything inside the fence is the same between the two (concepts),” said Jody Rader of Minneapolis-based Hoisington Koegler Group, Inc., which is serving as the city’s design consultant for proposed upgrades to Soldiers Field Park.

While the council members voiced support for the aquatic center plan, some pointed to potential tweaks for the final plan, from adding a deeper pool to allow diving, to replacing rather than reusing the existing bathhouse.

Preferred concept 1.jpg
A preferred concept design for a new Soldiers Field aquatics park.
Contributed / City of Rochester

Mike Nigbur, the city’s parks and forestry division head, said some of the changes would come with added costs and others would reduce efforts to be sustainable.

He said the proposed concepts were the results of months of community discussions that included working with a group of residents, known as co-designers, who weighed community goals against costs.

“They have fed us good information, and we’ll continue that through the design process,” he said.

Sam Sonnabend, a member of the Rochester Swim Club and youth member of the city’s co-design team, said either plan is acceptable for the swim club, but added that the alternative without changes to the golf course was preferred by all local swimming organizations.

“Both concepts meet the standards and needs of our community, and we are seeking full funding,” he said.

The aquatic center isn’t the only planned park change included in a project with an estimated $20.1 million plan, which could still include tweaks to the golf course to create a trail extension to connect the north side of the golf course to the existing trail south of the park.

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The proposed extension would cost $500,000, with half the cost paid with state funding tied to the trail project.

“I don’t see any need for the southwest trail,” council member Shaun Palmer said, stating it needs more review.

Southwest trail.jpg
Information on a proposed trail extension running between the Zumbro River and homes on the west side of the Soldiers Field Golf Course was presented to the Rochester City Council on Monday, Jan. 23, 2023, as part of an overall discussion of proposed changes for the park.
Contributed / City of Rochester

Nigbur said while support for an aquatics concept was needed to move ahead with plans to build the new facility this year, the other park changes, including the trail extension and other updates and revisions, could be revisited at a later date.

“The rest of the facilities can come later in 2023,” he said.

The city has up to $22 million dedicated to the Soldiers Field project, as well as the $250,000 in state trail funding.

The city has earmarked $7 million from the city’s park referendum funds for the project, and the state’s Destination Medical Center Corp. board has tentatively approved spending $10 million in state DMC funds.

A $5 million federal grant has also been secured for specific aspects of the project.

City Administrator Alison Zelms said the council will revisit the aquatic center plan when a bid for the next phase of work needs to be approved.

Randy Petersen joined the Post Bulletin in 2014 and became the local government reporter in 2017. An Elkton native, he's worked for a variety of Midwest papers as reporter, photographer and editor since graduating from Winona State University in 1996. Readers can reach Randy at 507-285-7709 or rpetersen@postbulletin.com.
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