Kids in swimsuits packed the slides, swings and ropes of Harmon Park’s new playground, taking breaks to cool off in the water raining down from blue buckets and water jets shooting from the ground a few yards away.
The playground and splash pad that debuted Aug. 8 at West St. Paul’s oldest park were crawling with kids last week as the city rushes to wrap up construction of the rest of the park by Labor Day.
Harmon Park, created in 1925 but not updated since 1987, is also getting new baseball fields, a soccer field, concession building, ice rink, warming house and multipurpose building for community events.
So how does the new park compare to the old one?
“It doesn’t,” said Pam Trojan, as she watched her daughter play there and chatted with Alison Nelson, whose two children ran through the sprinklers at the splash pad. The old playground was “questionable,” the two women agreed, with graffiti on picnic tables and a playground that Nelson half-jokingly said would require a hepatitis shot.
“I feel like people come here who wouldn’t come to the old park,” Trojan said.
That is exactly what City Manager Matt Fulton wants to see.
“It’s kind of bigger than just a neighborhood park. It’s kind of an indicator of where West St. Paul is going,” Fulton said. “It’s at a point in its history when we are going to want to have new families to move into town.”
Fulton said he hopes the Harmon Park updates will attract residents, bring the neighborhood together and encourage recreation and wellness.
The city is trying to make the park, which previously housed adult softball leagues, more family-oriented, said Assistant Parks and Recreation Director Dave Schletty. The adult teams have been moved elsewhere, and the four new baseball fields are for Little League and other youth teams.
The fields have been turned so they no longer face each other, which made it difficult to hold four games at once, Schletty said, and workers are adding irrigation and lights.
But the chain-link fences still sat in coils on the fields last week.
The $6.2 million project, which the city is financing with general obligation bonds, has hit a few snags and is wrapping up more than a month later than planned. It is also well over the originally approved cost of $4.8 million. A tough bidding climate has increased expenses, Fulton said.
Wet weather and bad soil under the new buildings delayed construction, Schletty said. As the finish date was pushed, he said he heard from “more and more disappointed people waiting for that splash pad to open.”
Marie Philippi’s son and daughter were among those anxiously waiting. They already have been to the park several times since the playground and splash pad opened.
“My daughter has already planned her birthday in that building,” Philippi said of the community center, which is nearly complete.
The city will offer birthday packages there and rent it out for community events, Fulton said.
When construction is done, Philippi, who owns Taste of Love bakery in West St. Paul, will be baking treats for Harmon Park’s grand opening celebration. That event is planned for 4 p.m. Sept. 24 and will include games, free food and possibly a movie in the park, Schletty said.