Lake Elmo, school district consider partnership to build new park

Lake Elmo and Stillwater Area Schools have been working on a possible partnership to add more amenities to the southeast corner of the city, including a new park.

The school district this year approached the city via the parks commission to form a joint powers agreement, where the district would open up 3.7 acres of the campus at Oak-Land Junior High for a neighborhood park and the city would contribute park fund money to add three tennis courts.

Following the results of a community survey, the commission has been looking at adding a park to that area, according to commission chair Shane Weis. When the district approached city about the football field-size parcel just north of the school on Manning Avenue, the commission quickly showed interest, he said.

"Say, your son or daughter has a function on the ... courts," he said. Then, there could be a full-service park next door to use. "It kind of becomes a recreational destination, so to speak."

The school district already plans to spend about $310,000 to tear up and rebuild the existing three tennis courts. Building an additional three new ones would cost the city $80,000, under the agreement.

If the two entities partnered up, they would work together on a master plan to make improvements to the wooded area next to the school, adding features that could include a playground, benches and trash cans. The district would still own the public park, but the city would be able to use park funds to build amenities that would be open to the public.

The district would have first dibs on the courts and fields at the new park, but community members would be able to access them outside of school hours and activities. The district would maintain the tennis courts, mow lawns and keep up landscaping. The city would maintain the neighborhood park amenities.

"We're pretty excited about it," Weis said. "In our eyes, it's just a great example of city government working with school officials. The outcome for the residents is going to really great."

Existing amenities heavily used

Area residents already use the sports features at the middle school, according to Dennis Bloom, the school facilities manager, and Tom Yuska, the director of youth programs at FamilyMeans, which offers services and programming for residents of the Cimarron Manufactured Home Park, about a mile from the junior high.

FamilyMeans also utilizes Cimarron's basketball court, playground and swimming pool, as well as the Lake Elmo Park Reserve and some open space along Tenth Street for summer soccer. All of those amenities have been "pretty sufficient" for the program's needs, he said, but some Cimarron kids do already walk to Oak-Land for school and to use the facilities there.

He said some of the kids have talked about wanting BMX trails.

For FamilyMeans programming, Yuska said transportation can be an issue, so it's "easier" when recreational facilities are nearby. Oak-Land is "pretty close" from FamilyMeans' perspective, so the new park, depending on what's there, could provide more opportunities, according to Yuska.

"This park may as well be another one that offers some different things to the kids and our programming," Yuska.

There are 505 manufactured home sites at Cimarron, 422 of which are occupied, according to the park manager, Kate Yunke. In those 422 homes, she says there are "lots" of kids.

Requires council approval

The Lake Elmo City Council April 1 postponed its decision to approve the agreement to partner with the school, in order to have some concerns addressed. Some of the council members weren't sure how the agreement came to be, and whether or not the park would serve enough Lake Elmo residents.

The city council planned to meet at 7 p.m. on April 15 at City Hall, after press time, to consider it.

Look for an update at lillienews.com, and in the next Oakdale-Lake Elmo Review.

Kaitlyn Roby can be reached at 651-748-7815 and kroby@lillienews.com. Follow her at twitter.com/KRobyNews.

 

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