The Brainerd City Council will explore the idea of budgeting funds for a future splash pad at Memorial Park.

Council members heard from Emily Noble and Meta Mandich — two organizers of the Brainerd splash pad effort — during their meeting Tuesday, Sept. 8. More than 100 families and businesses have contributed to the cause over the past four years, they said, raising roughly $85,000 through donations and the purchase of engraved bricks, stepping stones, memorial benches and picnic tables to be placed at the splash pad. About $8,000 of the money raised is for the specialty items, while the rest will go directly to the splash pad itself. The total cost is estimated at $185,000-$200,000 to start, while more fixtures can always be added on later.

Emilly Noble (left) and Meta Mandich, two Brainerd moms and organizers behind the effort to bring a splash pad to the city, address the city council virtually Tuesday, Sept. 8. Screenshot by Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch
Emilly Noble (left) and Meta Mandich, two Brainerd moms and organizers behind the effort to bring a splash pad to the city, address the city council virtually Tuesday, Sept. 8. Screenshot by Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

Noble and Mandich started the effort in 2016, talking with governmental bodies and trying to raise money to build the family-friendly attraction in one of Brainerd’s public parks. Originally, the plan was to place it in Gregory Park in north Brainerd, but with northeast Brainerd’s Memorial Park slated for a remodel beginning next year, the plan changed. The parks board suggested incorporating the splash pad into the redesign, for which the city council allocated $1.3 million. The project will recoup facilities lost when the city loses access to Mill Avenue Park in 2021, after owner Mike Higgins decided not renew the lease.

Council member Kelly Bevans asked about working with the parks board and using some of that $1.3 million for the splash pad.

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Parks Board Chair Kara Schaefer and member Kevin Yeager joined the meeting virtually and spoke of support for the splash pad but said the money allocated for the park will likely not cover it. With original bids for the park coming in over budget, the board decided to hold off on starting the project this fall as anticipated and rebid it early next year.

“With the Memorial Park project, we have looked at a lot of different components going into there. Our first objective, of course, was the warming house and the rinks that we’re losing from Mill Avenue Park and moving over there,” Yeager said.

Memorial Park ball field shown here Wednesday, April 8, 2020, in Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
Memorial Park ball field shown here Wednesday, April 8, 2020, in Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

The parks board agreed, though, to put in the underground work needed for the splash pad along with phase one of the redesign and to maintain the splash pad once it is in place. Yeager said he researched splash pads extensively, noting the equipment averages a 30-year lifespan, depending on installation, and maintenance is similar to that of playground equipment.

While Yeager and Schaefer couldn’t speak for the full parks board, they expressed support for the splash pad.

“I also believe that the splash pad is something that we are committed to helping be born,” Yeager said. “We would like to play off the energy that our community members have brought forth, and I believe that we have a group of people that are committed to making this happen, if not this year, in the next few years.”

Noble and Mandich requested the council consider contributing up to $100,000 of matching funds for the splash pad. If that were the case, Yeager said the splash pad could go in as early as next year.

A concept rendering of the proposed splash pad for Memorial Park, courtesy of Flagship Recreation.
A concept rendering of the proposed splash pad for Memorial Park, courtesy of Flagship Recreation.

“Meta and I are committed to making it happen,” Noble said. “And we’re going to continue to fundraise all the way until we hear those kids laughing and playing in there.”

Council member Kevin Stunek made a motion to add splash pad funds as a discussion item for the council’s upcoming budget workshop Monday, Sept. 14. The rest of the council agreed unanimously. Finance Director Connie Hillman said she would work it into the budget.

Council President Gabe Johnson said he supported the match, and, from reviewing preliminary budget numbers, he said it may be possible without a tax increase.

The budget workshop is at 6 p.m. Monday, Sept. 14, at the fire department.



THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa.