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Survey will gauge Rochester park priorities

Residents asked to weigh in as proposal for accelerated spending is considered.

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Vinh Nguyen, of Rochester, plays with his daughters, from left, Kylie, 4, Brianna, 3, Madeline, 5, and Lilly 1, Wednesday, May 20, 2020, on the playground at Cook Park in Rochester. The city of Rochester announced Wednesday that park play structures and playgrounds, including the Silver Lake Skate Park, are now open after being closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The city said in a press release that the equipment will not be sanitized, and that users can play at their own risk. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

Rochester residents can share their priorities for the city's park system as plans are made to make changes to the spaces.

The city’s Parks and Recreation department sent a randomized survey to 5,500 households earlier this year and has now posted a broader community survey online at https://polco.us/s6mh5t .

The survey comes as Rochester City Council members have been meeting in small groups to discuss a proposal that would increase spending in the next few years, by using the city’s recently approved referendum to support borrowing $15 million.

The proposal comes with a list of projects that include $7 million for Soldiers Field Park improvements, $4 million for Silver Lake Park improvements and a variety of other projects throughout the system.

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RELATED: Plan would accelerate park projects with recent referendum funds

On Monday, council member Nick Campion said questions remain about the proposal, particularly related to future expenses.

“It’s a set of projects that seem extremely attractive if you just see we can do them,” he said, but added that some come with future operating and maintenance costs.

In a list of proposed projects presented to the Rochester Park Board earlier this month, four included likely ongoing expenses beyond what is in the current parks budget. They were the Soldiers Field and Silver Lake improvements, as well as a proposed $500,000 update to Martin Luther King Jr. Park and $300,000 proposed for soccer fields in McQuillan Field Park.

“It’s really kind of unfair, I think, to build support around the accelerated model without looking at the impact of operating those,” Campion said.

Council member Patrick Keane said he’s generally supportive of borrowing funds for the improvements, with the plan of using $1 million in referendum funds for annual payments.

However, he said he would like to clarify how projects have been selected.

Parks and Recreation Director Paul Widman has said the initial project list is tentative and based on $80 million in projects proposed in the city’s 2016 Parks and Recreation System Plan , but spending could change with added community input, including the current surveys.

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“We look forward to seeing how this data informs how we move forward as a department and supports work to best serve our residents, businesses and visitors,” he said.

Additionally, Soldiers Field and Silver Lake parks are scheduled to be topics of future planning efforts, which could better define changes and operating costs.

Rochester Deputy City Administrator Aaron Parrish said that means final decisions will likely wait.

“We don’t want to get too far ahead on the projects, considering we have some fairly significant engagement happening right now,” he said.

The city council is likely to be asked whether it supports the concept related to accelerated park spending later this month or in early September, but Parrish said the city might not have a defined list of projects at that time.

“There will be some process when we receive the results of the survey and related engagement,” he said of developing a final project list.

The community survey has eight questions and takes 10 to 15 minutes to complete.

The mailed surveys should be returned by Aug. 20; results are expected to be shared in early fall.

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Rochester MN Parks and Recreation System Plan (2016) by inforumdocs on Scribd

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