A draft of the St. Paul Parks and Recreation System Plan, proposing sweeping changes to parks, buildings, and other recreational facilities across the city, sparked discussion at the first of five public meetings, held November 3 at the Hillcrest Recreation Center. The proposed closing of the Duluth and Case Recreation Center, located at 1020 Duluth St. in East St. Paul, and added dog parks were attendees’ main concerns.
|Open Houses to discuss plan
November 3 – Hillcrest Recreation Center, 1978 Ford Parkway
November 8 – Phalen Recreation Center, 1000 East Wheelock Pkwy
November 9 – Wellstone Community Center/El Rio Vista Recreation Center, 179 Robie Street East
November 15 – Oxford Community Center/Jimmy Lee Recreation Center, 270 Lexington Pkwy North
November 18 – North Dale Recreation Center, 1414 St. Albans Street North
“It’s like a child that is hungry not being nourished, we’re watching them starve,” said Tom Russ, a resident of the east side of St. Paul, regarding the proposed closing of the Duluth and Case Recreation Center.
According to the plan, “Currently (Fall, 2010) there are 25 City operated and staffed recreation center buildings open to the public and 12 repurposed buildings that are operated by partner groups.” The plan calls for a “focus on Regional Parks [Como, Phalen and Great River], trail connections, and a streamlined neighborhood and community park system.”
The proposed community parks would include 19 community centers and three buildings that will have a “part-time recreation focus.” That part of the plan includes the closing of the Duluth and Case Recreation Center and the Hayden Heights Recreation Center. Programs and resources offered at the 19 community centers would be reformatted to reach all ages and interests, to redefine centers as community-oriented instead of youth-oriented.
“Not just teen and afterschool programs, but meeting rooms [and things] that go beyond recreation,” would be offered, explained Adam Arvidson, a landscape architect for Treeline, one of the consulting companies who helped construct the plan.
“The idea behind the community center is to provide greater access and a diversity of programs,” Arvidson said. “There’s a need to have fewer of them, we want quality over quantity.”
|Phalen Open House
The November 8 open house at Phalen Recreation Center had about 150 people in attendance, according to discussion on E-Democracy Forum. Among the concerns noted by Forum participants:
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“The East Side is home to a very high percentage of the city’s children; one in three East Side residents is under 18. These children and their families live in small houses with small yards, with a higher density than most other areas. They need places to go and room to play; otherwise they will be roaming the streets getting into trouble. We are in a vicious circle with parks and rec centers; staffing and programming are cut, which lowers current usage — this is read as “there is little need here”.
“There was also a substantial contigent from the senior programs at Conway; keeping our seniors active and connected to the neighborhood is a good thing. …” [Laurie Krivitz]
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“Much of the conflict with this is that is not what traditionally East Side residents have wanted. There is a tendency to be comfortable with smaller, closer to home facilities. The arguments of most residents is that I would rather have my kids be able to walk somewhere close to home, than for me to drive them to the mega-facility and for many of the residents close to the proposed mega-facility they aren’t to crazy about seeing someone else’s kids at the neighborhood park…. rather see the neighborhood kids and get to know them.”
“There is great concern that the closing of Duluth Case would leave kids in that area with no rec centers with adult supervision. The particular concern is that going to Phalen or Arlington (Payne/Maryland) is to long of a distance. The plan suggests that there would be improved athletic fields at the site, and restroom facilities, which would be good for organized sports; but no on-site recreation staff. …”[Chuck Repke]
Some existing park buildings that don’t become community centers would eventually be taken over by partner organizations and institutions, so that they are no longer staffed or operated by the parks and recreation department. The plan proposes a new neighborhood park with a bathroom and storage building in place of Duluth Case, and to use a school or library building instead of the Hayden Heights center. Neighborhood parks are a separate part of the plan, distinct from the proposed community centers.
Increased accessibility to parks, trails, and natural areas such as wetlands is another major focus of the plan. Proposed alterations to outdoor recreational facilities include the removal of some overlapping fields, the renovation of others, and the creation of irrigated turf fields to achieve fewer yet better quality fields. More off-leash dog areas, removable skate parks at refrigerated ice rink locations, reducing the city’s four public golf courses to three, and adding playgrounds as needed are other suggestions. All proposed changes can be viewed on the St. Paul website.
The first to arrive and the last to leave, Duluth Case supporters accounted for more than one third of the Hillcrest meeting’s approximately 30 attendees.
Russ articulated their motivation, saying “Youth and community-that’s our concern.”
“We have a very active booster club and they say numbers are down, but I don’t see it,” said Alan Kaup, also of East St. Paul.
Duluth and Case partisans, including Booster Club President Brinkley Prescott, settled at a table to discuss the potential closing and its alternatives for the duration of the meeting. Bob Smith, Research Analyst of Financial and Planning Services for St. Paul Parks and Recreation, Mike Hahm, Director of the St. Paul Department of Parks and Recreation, and Greg Ingraham, Vice President of Hoisington Koegler Group Inc., each spent a few minutes at the table listening to concerns.
Though “to get a new facility,” is what Prescott wants, she said after the meeting, “It felt like we got a lot of really good information. For a while it wasn’t looking good, but there are possibilities.”
Debaters of additional off-leash dog parks were runners-up to Duluth Case supporters. Off-leash dog parks already exist at Arlington/Arkwright Park and Battle Creek Regional Park, while the plan proposes at least five more city-wide, at Newell Park, Lilydale Regional Park, Pedro Park, Lower Landing Park, Indian Mounds Regional Park, and an undetermined location in northwest St. Paul according to a plan overview map.
By meeting’s end, posted note cards consisted of five addressing Duluth Case, six addressing dog parks, and a few critical of the meeting’s format.
The open house format allowed attendees to approach officials freely with questions. “Comment and Idea” forms in addition to pens and note cards to post comments to the “Ideas and Suggestions” wall were provided for attendees’ input.
One note card posted on the “Suggestions and Ideas” wall, a venue provided for attendees’ written comments, read, “Closing recreation sites while creating dog parks? Ten acres?” Another argued, “Dog parks bring people together in community and dog owners are good stewards of public lands.”
“We’re getting both kudos and dissatisfied responses,” said Arvidson, noting the collaboration of Duluth Case supporters. “After the meetings, we have to go back and make changes as needed.”
The consulting management teams, including members of the St. Paul Parks and Recreation Department and consultants from landscape architecture firms who created the plan, will compile and examine community members’ comments, though “ultimately the Parks and Rec department will decide the changes,” Arvidson said.
“Community influence is huge,” Smith said. “And there certainly is community interest here.”
St. Paul residents can also comment online. Feedback from meetings and online commenters will influence the final draft before it is presented to the Parks and Recreation Commission meeting on December 8 and to the City Council in January 2011.
“It’s a good turnout and people are really engaged,” said Lil Leatham, a landscape architect for Hoisington Koegler Group Inc., of the meeting.
Two meetings remain, on November 15th at the Oxford Community Center/Jimmy Lee Recreation Center at 270 Lexington Parkway North, and November 18th at the North Dale Recreation Center at 1414 St. Albans St. North, both from 7-9 p.m.
“We’d like as many people as can to come,” Leatham said
|What’s happening to the buildings?
Community Center Winners:
Buildings remain, but are more community oriented as opposed to neighborhood and youth oriented.
Battle Creek 75 Winthrop St. S.
Dayton’s Bluff 800 Conway St.
Edgcumbe 320 Griggs St. S.
El Rio Vista/Wellstone 179 Robie St. E.
Hancock 1610 Hubbard Ave.
Hazel Park 945 Hazel St. N.
Hillcrest 1978 Ford Pkwy.
Langford 30 Langford Park
Linwood 860 St. Clair Ave.
Martin Luther King 271 Mackubin St
Merriam Park (“master plan process recommended”) 2000 St. Anthony Ave.
North Dale 1414 St. Albans St. N.
Oxford/Jimmy Lee 270 Lexington Parkway North
Phalen 1000 E Wheelock Parkway
Palace (expand) 781 Palace Avenue
Rice 1021 Marion
Scheffer (new building recommended) 237 Thomas Ave.
West Minnehaha 685 W. Minnehaha Ave
|Buildings to Partner/Divest
Buildings no longer staffed by St. Paul Parks and Rec, low quality buildings eventually removed
Conway (high/moderate) 2090 Conway Ave
Wilder (high/moderate) 958 Jessie St.
McDonough (high/moderate) 1544 Timberlake Rd
Griggs (high/moderate) 1188 Hubbard Ave
Dunning (high/moderate) 1221 Marshall Ave.
St. Clair/West 7th (high/moderate) 265 Oneida St.
Desnoyer (high/moderate) 525 Pelham Blvd.
South St. Anthony (high/moderate) 890 Cromwell Ave
Baker (high/moderate) 209 Page St. W.
Eastview (low) 1675 5th St. E.
Margaret (low) 1109 Margaret St.
Orchard (low) 875 Orchard Ave.
Sites for out-of-school time programming and staffing for gym use and events:
Groveland 2021 St. Clair Avenue
NW Como 1550 N Hamline
The less fortunate:
Duluth and Case-new community athletic park recommended with bathroom and storage building
Hayden Heights (add out of school time City recreation services in an existing school or library building)
CORRECTION: Thanks to Andy Gifford’s snarky Tweet [“Note to editor(s) at @tcdailyplanet: there is no ‘East St. Paul.’ There’s an ‘East Side”] for this correction: : – “Tom Russ, a resident of the east side of St. Paul”