Discussion of a splash pad in Pequot Lakes has been on the backburner for years, but it's likely when the council convenes to discuss whether to officially declare their stance on the project, possibly in October, they will likely have a generally positive impression of the project following a Sept. 21 informational meeting at the Cole Memorial Building. Even so, if the council reaches an agreement based on the meeting they will likely delay any decisions on how to fund the project in hopes that funds may come from somewhere other than the levy.
After a presentation by Jeff Corniea of Commercial Recreation Specialists on the construction, maintenance and benefits of community splash pads, a majority of the business owners and community members present raised their hands to indicate that they believe Pequot Lakes could benefit from a splash pad. Those who raised their hands to indicate otherwise were quick to clarify that they are not opposed to a splash pad, but that they would not approve of any levy increases to pay for the estimated $188,600 construction and annual $28,500 water, insurance, maintenance and testing costs. The city would charge itself for water service to avoid increasing the water fee for those on city water.
The city is projected to lower its tax rate with the 2022 budget, a savings which included sometimes contentious negotiations with different department heads including the police and fire department, which members of the crowd referenced several times throughout the question and answer portion of the meeting. The city removed the public works director position from the city payroll as well as legal fees and travel costs for administration and P&Z, police conferences and street signals and signs. Some said they didn't see how the council could consider increasing the levy to pay for a splash pad while cutting from more essential services.
Mayor Tyler Gardner disagreed with the statements that city departments don't have the equipment they need to do their jobs. Gardner also explained that they weren't holding the meeting to advocate for the splash pad, but the project has been on the docket for discussion for literal years and the council decided they needed to get community input so that a decision can finally be made on whether to pursue it.
Gardner said regardless of the council's decision, the 2022 levy will not increase to pay for the splash pad. A preliminary levy has already been decided on and cannot be increased. In addition, the city does not need to commit to funding the project immediately. If the council agrees to the project that doesn't mean the levy will increase in 2023 or any other year unless the council also agrees to fund it using taxpayer funding, which they are not required to do. Gardner said the council cannot solicit donations but said they would welcome any efforts by businesses, the community action group, Chamber of Commerce or community members to raise the funds.
Already the city has $69,413 remaining of a $100,000 donation by an anonymous donor who wished for the city to construct a splash pad back in 2013. The same donor provided the funding for the city's flag display. The city has spent some of the splash pad money to do a study for the splash pad. There are also administration fees tied to the money.
One resident asked if the council ever spoke to the donor's intermediaries to see if they would instead allow the council to expand the existing children's playground. It was confirmed that they would not. Other community members present doubted expanding the playground would be as effective at attracting additional families into town when compared to a splash pad.
In response to questions about return on investment, Gardner compared it to other city amenities in that there is no actual return on investment, however, having better amenities can attract more people and businesses to town, which can lower the tax rate. When one community member called it an unneeded expense, Gardner said that amenities are never needed expenses.
Corniea said that water attractions are the most effective attractions a city can add. Several parents in the crowd confirmed that they had planned road trips around the availability of splash pads and other community members said that they would be very interested in using a splash pad if one were available either for their own children, or grandchildren.
The overall goal of installing a splash pad is to attract more visitors and permanent residents into the city, particularly to the businesses that surround the splash pad, which would be constructed on the North half of trailside park. Corniea confirmed that such amenities are more for the community members, though they also attract visitors from out of town.
Lots of information was made available at the meeting. Some highlights are as follows:
- The design is zero depth, which means no risk of drowning and requires no lifeguard or attendant.
- Features on the splash pad can start with ground jets and be updated as funding becomes available.
- The city's insurance will treat the splash pad much like a playground.
- The location of the splash pad next to the playground could enhance both features since children might play at the playground until warm, then play at the splash pad until cooled off and then return to the playground.
- The splash pads will not constantly be on. They will have activator switches which people can turn on, at which time only 70 percent of the features will be on, but the system will cycle through those features after a set time.
- The water for the splash pad is the same water that comes out of community taps with no added treatments assuming the city chooses to use the more economical "one-pass" design.
- The water would run into the city storm sewers.
- The only replacements Corniea has seen, even on 20 year old splash pads installed by his company, included a control panel damaged by lightning.
- Because splash pads have a controlled slope they are accessible to those with wheelchairs, making them even more accessible than natural water features like beaches.
- The hours of operation can be limited using a control panel in the case of drought or other dilemmas.
- Under the current proposed settings, the splash pad would use 70 gallons of water per minute. The estimated usage based on other communities is about 3 million gallons in a season from Memorial Day to Labor Day, which is typical.
- Splash pads have been popular features for municipalities since 2000 and the popularity of them is only growing.
- The pad has features for infants on up, though most users are likely between the age of 2-10 years.
- Features stay in place all year long with caps to keep water from filling the system after it is purged for the winter.
- The average water temp is 55-57 degrees.
- The pad would be constructed of reinforced concrete with coated stainless steel features with the weakest points, valves and electronics, expected to last 30 years or more.
- The proposed pad would be 2,000 square feet with a capacity of 80 people.
- This proposal does not include any road closures, which had been discussed early in the splash pad introduction.
Travis Grimler is a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper in Pequot Lakes/Pine River. He may be reached at 218-855-5853 or firstname.lastname@example.org.