Unfinished business: a look at some ongoing LP news stories from 2007

January 7, 2008

By Ivan Raconteur
Staff Writer

Some news stories have a way of taking unexpected twists and turns, and remain unresolved months after they were first reported.

Following is an update on some of the Lester Prairie stories that were in the news last year.

Last January, the city applied for a Safe Routes to School grant through a federal aid program of the US Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration. At the state level, the program is administered through MnDOT.

The plan involved a proposal for a trail that would run along the north side of McLeod County Road 23, from McLeod County Road 9 to Pine Street, and then south to the city park.

The goal was to provide a safe way for children to travel from East Park Estates to school or to the city park without having to walk or bike on the county road.

In April, the city was notified that it had been awarded a $175,000 grant for the project.

Of 111 applications that were submitted, Lester Prairie was one of only 23 cities to be approved for a grant.

But, there was a catch. Eight months after being approved for the grant, the city has not received the paperwork it needs from MnDOT to move forward with the project.

The city made numerous attempts to get the paperwork without success. City Engineer Jake Saulsbury told the city council that he was told by MnDOT that the department is behind in its paperwork.

Last summer, City Clerk Marilyn Pawelk expressed frustration at the delays.

“I originally hoped to get this done before the pool opened. Then I hoped to get it done before school started. Then I hoped we could at least get the trail cut in so it could settle over the winter. Now, we won’t be able to start until next year,” Pawelk told the council last August.

In December, Pawelk was told that she would have the paperwork “two weeks after the holidays,” but she remains skeptical. It is a story she has heard too many times before.

Hazardous hotel

Another item in the news last year was the future of the former hotel building at 100 Maple Street South.

In 2006, the building was found to be a hazard to public safety.

The building inspector identified numerous hazards, both inside and outside of the structure.

In October 2006, after attempts to contact property owner Corey Schmidt failed, the council directed the city attorney to file for a court order for repairs.

The order was served Oct. 14, and gave the owner 60 days to complete the necessary repairs to make the building safe.

In December 2006, three days before the court imposed deadline for completion, Schmidt appeared before the council and said he planned to remodel the building and convert it to apartments or condominiums.

He said it would take three or four weeks to complete the interior demolition, and he said he would start as soon as the building permits were approved.

Schmidt said the renovations could be complete within a year-and-a-half.

The council agreed to put the judgement on hold until February 2007 to give Schmidt more time to complete the repairs.

Last August, Schmidt and the city appeared in court because the repairs had not been made.

The court ordered Schmidt to complete the repairs, and imposed a timeline for when each item had to be completed.

The deadlines ranged from 10 days for securing doors and windows to 90 days for trimming trees and bushes around the doors and windows.

In December, the council reviewed the situation, and directed the city attorney to refer the matter back to court because Schmidt had not complied with the court order for repair.

Central Park changes

In 2006, the council addressed concerns about the condition of the city’s Central Park.

The old bandstand in the park, located at the intersection of Central Avenue and Juniper Street, was in poor condition, and a committee was formed to come up with recommendations.

The committee determined that the old bandstand had deteriorated beyond repair, and the council had the structure removed.

The committee also came up with a proposal for improvements to revitalize the park, and the park commission supported the proposal.

Last January, the park commission and the committee presented the proposal to the city council.

The proposal included construction of a new bandstand and walkways, and installation of lighting, benches, and landscaping.

The total estimated cost of the proposal was $103,200.

The council scheduled two meetings to get public input about the proposal.

Last September, the council, on a split vote, approved $60,000 to be used for improvements to Central Park.

This included $50,000 in park reserve funds and $10,000 from the park budget for 2008.

No specific plan has yet been approved by the council.

In December, the council asked to have the park issue added to the agenda for this Wednesday’s public meeting. The council said it would like to hear an update on the committee’s proposal, and would like public input on the situation.