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Cottage Grove residents will have their say on park and pool

  • Article by: TIM HARLOW
  • Star Tribune
  • August 18, 2012 - 9:42 PM

Cottage Grove residents will have a new water park, an indoor/outdoor playground, and more fields on which to play baseball and softball -- if they want them.

The City Council last week decided to ask voters to approve two measures will appear on the November ballot. One will ask citizens if they want the city to spend $6.5 million to build a new family aquatics center. A second will ask for $7 million to refurbish Hamlet Park and transform the city's former swimming pool building into a playground.

Some voters cried foul when the city spent $15 million for a new City Hall and public safety building without seeking their approval. But City Administrator Ryan Schroeder said this time around it is the difference between needs and wants.

"City Hall was mission critical. We had to build it," he said. "Both of these [the park and pool] are wants. They are nice to have, but they are not critical to conducting the mission of the organization. Because of that, the council is saying to the taxpayer that if you want us to construct this amenity for you, so be it. If not, that is fine too. We want you to decide."

If voters pass both questions, approving $13.7 million in spending, the owner of a $200,000 house will see a tax increase of about $77 a year. Owners of a $400,000 house would see a tax increase of about $170 a year. Voters could pass one of the measures without the other, which would result in a $37 to $39 increase for owners of a $200,000 house, which is just above the average home price in Cottage Grove. The increase would be $82 to $88 for the more expensive homes, city officials said.

The aquatics center would replace the city's 50-year-old pool, which was in dire need of repair and shuttered last year. The new center would feature sprayers, slides, tunnels and tubes, but they would not be quite as lavish as those found at the metro area's largest water parks.

At Hamlet Park, the money would pay for removable pitching mounds on four fields for baseball and softball. Officials with the Cottage Grove Athletic Association have said the dearth of softball fields prevents them from hosting large tournaments.

Along with other park enhancements, part of the $7 million would go to repurposing the Thompson Grove Building, which had housed the city's swimming pool. The 5,500-square-foot building would be transformed into an indoor-outdoor park replete with standard playground equipment and perhaps a kitchen.

Decision Resources, LTD, a Minneapolis-based market research firm, conducted a survey to determine public support for four proposed projects. The results showed favorable support for improvements at Hamlet Park, the aquatics center and Thompson building renovation. Support for a fourth project -- acquisition of land for a future sports complex -- did not get high approval ratings and was scratched from the list.

"We are not diving into the pool to see if there is water in it first," said Council Member Justin Olsen. "The survey helped our decision to present this to the community for a vote."

In supporting both measures, Olsen said he is optimistic that the questions will pass because the amenities will be beneficial to families.

City Council Member Jen Peterson said many residents have lamented the closing of the city's pool and would like a local place to cool off. She also said people understand that big softball and baseball tournaments can bring large numbers of people to town.

"A lot of people were asking for them," she said. "They go with the family-oriented agenda, and people understand the importance of amenities economically and that attract them [families] to move to Cottage Grove. I think they have a pretty good chance of passing."

Tim Harlow • 651-925-5039 Twitter: @timstrib

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