Burlington, News

Wagner Park improvements advance despite cost concerns

By Jason Arndt

Wagner Park in Burlington will undergo upgrades, including a new restroom, after the Common Council endorsed a contract despite cost concerns at an April 3 meeting.

The Common Council, which awarded a $169,903 contract to Scherrer Construction, approved the matter on a 5-3 decision with alderpersons Thomas Preusker, Bill Smitz and Shad Branen voicing opposition to the plan.

Other proposals came from Glen Fern Construction ($170,289.80) and Ray Stadler Construction Co., Inc. ($179,585).

The plan looks to enhance accessibility, including installation of sidewalks along Chestnut Street, along with demolition of the existing restroom and construction of a new handicapped accessible, single-room, unisex restroom.

“In addition to the restroom, the project includes installation of sidewalks to close the gaps along Chestnut and connects various park features with sidewalks,” Peter Riggs, director of public works, wrote in a memorandum to the Common Council.

Common Council members who opposed the contract cited costs as well as removal of two mature maple trees to accommodate sidewalk installation.

Preusker, of District 4, initially supported the plan until he learned the city would use the capital improvement project funds instead of Community Development Block Grant funds.

“I was in favor the project if we were going to use grant money to do it,” Preusker said. “But the grant money is exhausted. I don’t support this project at this time.”

Preusker said the asking price is too high considering it is a single-stall restroom, and looked to use the funds to finance other project enhancements in the city.

Preusker also explicitly inquired what happened to the CBDG funds, which are earmarked specifically for accessibility improvements, such as installation of a handicapped accessible restroom at the Burlington Public Library.

City Administrator Carina Walters said city officials scrapped the Wagner Park improvements from the CBDG list because of overages on other projects, like the Burlington Public Library and Burlington Senior Activity Center.

Additionally, city officials said they placed Wagner Park as a low priority when they worked on plans involving the Echo Lake Dam, but have since revisited the city-owned park project.

Riggs also noted the city has held long-standing discussions on Wagner Park improvements for several years, including Common Council approval of a Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan, which included enhancements to the park along Chestnut Street.

However, if the Common Council decided not to endorse the project, the city planned to move forward with demolishing the structure without a replacement.

Branen, of District 1, concurred with Presuker and asked Riggs if he looked for other options such as a modular plan.

“It is so expensive,” Branen said. “I don’t know if there are any other options to approach this. I was looking at modular options where they are produced elsewhere and brought in. There are other community parks that do that. I did reach out to a vendor, just one vendor randomly.”

The vendor, Branen added, noted it would cost about $50,000 excluding transportation costs and connections to city infrastructure such as water and sewer utilities.

“It is just based on the cost. I don’t know how much use there would be based on when you compare this to other parks that don’t have a facility,” Branen said. “The cost is difficult to accept.”

Smitz, of District 4, had concerns about two trees being removed as part of the project.

“There are two beautiful trees that we would have to take down just to place the sidewalk,” Smitz said.

However, Riggs said he consulted with a city staffer, whom he proclaimed was a “tree lover,” before making the final recommendation.

“He had zero concerns about removing those trees,” Riggs said. “It provides an opportunity to put something into that park that diversifies our species. It allows a reforestation opportunity to happen. The (maple) trees are not a trophy specimen. While they are mature and do provide value, their loss will not be catastrophic in that location.”

Gateway to the city
For those entering the city from the west, Wagner Park offers a unique view, since the park overlooks the White River.

“That is the gateway to the city,” Burlington Mayor Jeannie Hefty said.

Jon E. Schultz II, of District 3, said he has supported the project for several years.

When he first arrived in Burlington, Schultz said he and his family often used Wagner Park.

Schultz said the restroom improvements would bolster usage of the park among residents in the neighborhood.

“It is probably one of the biggest opportunities to add usage to better take advantage of the water system,” Schultz said, adding the initial proposals nearly mirror previous estimates of typical restrooms. “I don’t like the cost, but the bathroom matches the cost of what we have been talking about.”

District 3 alderperson Tom Vos remembers using the restroom facility at Wagner Park as a child. He also noted the city has replaced aging infrastructure with new facilities since he has been a member of the Common Council.

Vos also anticipates increased usage once the new facility is in place, using the adage from the movie “Field of Dreams” by stating: “If you build it, they will come.”

Sara Spencer, of District 2, serves as aldermanic representative of the Park Board.

Spencer said the Park Board has often discussed Wagner Park improvements and believes they are necessary.

She asked Riggs how much the city has spent on the project to date.

“Thus far, on direct out-of-pocket costs for engineering and design, we have spent just under $16,000 to design the project,” Riggs said, adding the city needed to design the project twice, once for the Community Development Block Grant, and the other without it.

Additionally, city staff have spent about $1,000 worth of labor, including planning and design.

Riggs estimates the city would pay between $15,000 and $20,000 for demolition of the Wagner Park restroom.

While most view the improvements an opportunity, others had concerns about future expenses if the city decided to delay the project.

“I am just afraid if we don’t do it now, it is going to cost us even more,” said Corina Kretschmer, of District 1.

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