By Ivan Raconteur
In contrast to an adversarial meeting with the representatives from the park board and downtown park committee last Monday, the Lester Prairie City Council had a much more peaceful meeting with the same groups Thursday, and moved forward with a project that has been two years in the planning.
After a discussion about some of the details of the proposed plan for improvements to the downtown park, the council approved the specifications and directed that the project be sent out for bids.
The story began in 2006 when, in an attempt to avoid public criticism, the council asked for volunteers to help determine the fate of the decaying bandstand in the downtown park at the intersection of Central Avenue and Juniper Street.
A group of residents stepped forward and formed a committee that worked with the park board to study the situation. The committee recommended removal of the aging structure and proposed a plan to revitalize the park.
The story has not been without controversy.
There has been discussion about the cost of the project and confusion about the park department budget. There was also an issue over getting a lease from the McLeod County Railroad Authority, which owns the property.
Last September, the city council designated $60,000 for the project, including $50,000 in park reserve funds and $10,000 from the 2008 park budget.
A lease agreement was recently worked out with the rail authority.
With all other obstacles out of the way, the council considered approval of specifications for the project last Monday.
During that meeting, the committee met with significant scrutiny from the council.
Committee representatives Jerry Pawelk and Ralph Machemehl made it clear that they welcomed any input the council wished to make, and invited the council to add or change any specifications it saw fit.
The committee was also questioned by resident Ed Mlynar.
Adopting what at times seemed like the attitude of a prosecuting attorney, Mlynar paced around the room holding up a detailed drawing of the pool renovation project the city went through a few years ago, and said the park committee should have obtained similar engineered drawings for this project.
“I see no evidence of what is going to happen. You have not got adequate information to go out for bids at this time,” Mlynar said.
“If you want to add a few thousand dollars, we can go this route. We have talked to an engineer and he said ‘You have got what you need already,’” Pawelk replied.
“If we need more detailed drawings, I’d be more than happy to supply that,” Council Member Bob Messer said.
Mlynar brought up the cost of the project and offered estimates of what the project might cost city taxpayers.
Pawelk argued that the money needed for the park is not new tax dollars, but is money that has already been collected and approved by the council for this project.
At times, the meeting degenerated into topics unrelated to the proposal before the council.
In the end, the meeting was continued until last Thursday night to allow the council to review the plan and to provide an opportunity for Mayor Andy Heimerl, who was not present, to participate in the discussion.
Thursday’s meeting proceeded much more smoothly, with the council and the committee representatives calmly discussing more of the details and agreeing on final specifications.
The council approved the specifications and authorized that the project be advertised for bids, setting a bid opening for 3 p.m. Monday, Nov. 3 at city hall.