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Aitkin Community Parks and Rec committee looks to get park project back on track

This past winter the new hockey rink at City Park opened and provided a nice sheet of ice on a regulation-sized rink. The hockey rink has proven to be a nice upgrade that was frequently used by many people as it has been in the past, but what about the other parts of the project? The original project included a warming house along with pickleball courts painted inside the hockey rink, but neither of those are finished. A variety of factors have affected this plan causing delays and changes.

Two major factors that caused delays are cost overruns and problems with the original plan while the price of the rink itself, purchased from Becker Arena, came in right on budget at $114,250. Dirt work that was necessary for the rink was not budgeted into the plan, among other expenses. That, coupled with the pandemic and increased construction costs, quickly depleted all of the money that had been raised for the project thus far. In total, $300,243 in construction costs along with $37,281.50 in engineering costs to prepare the site for the hockey rink were not budgeted. Increased construction costs because of the COVID 19 pandemic made the problem even worse and left no money to complete the warming house and pickleball portions of the project. Because of this, the city has funded $117,289 that was not planned in order to get just the hockey rink portion of the project completed while the remainder of the project has had to wait for more funding.

This is a problem because the project isn’t finished and some of the grant money for the project is contingent on the whole project being completed. Grant money that the city was expecting will not be released until the project is finished. The hockey rink, pickleball complex, and warming house was supposed to be finished by 2020. The City Council’s Park Committee then formed a subcommittee called Aitkin Community Parks and Recreation to look at solving the problem of finishing this project. This subcommittee’s goal is to secure funding through grants to help finish surfacing pickleball courts inside of the hockey rink during the spring, summer, and fall seasons. Additionally, funds are needed to complete the warming house which is the last priority area identified in the first phase of the comprehensive plan for the park. Information was provided that if the pickleball courts were painted in color, this would affect how well the sheet of ice would hold up as it would attract the heat from the sun and melt and that the sheet of ice could only be 1 ½-2 inches thick. The pickleball courts were always included in the ice rink plan. Using the tennis courts for pickleball was only a short-term solution and are used quite a bit throughout the day, which does not allow for consistent scheduling of pickleball play. Also, they are not ideal for the leagues and tournaments that the pickleball association has dreams of holding. Finally, the pickleball association and others have been active in this project along with many others. The subcommittee discussed solutions of how to finish the first phase, starting with the pickleball courts. These ideas included covering the painted area with a light-colored tarp before putting the ice down or painting white lines for the pickleball court, but neither of these options are feasible. This led discussions to look at potential location areas for professional pickleball courts, including the skate park area.

The skate park currently has equipment that is no longer safe and is a liability for the city. The City Council has been informed that the police department is often called to the skate park, which suffers from vandalism and litter. While a plan to relocate the skate park was mentioned at the the City Council meeting, the Park Committee and Subcommittee both acknowledge the amount of usage of the skate park was underestimated. The Aitkin City Park would like to thank everyone who shared their passion and comments regarding the skate park. With the many comments of support, both committees decided to go a different direction.

After further inquiries and discussion, both committees learned the ice rink can indeed serve as a multi-use space as intended with three-plus inches of ice. Moving forward, the ice rink area will also be a pickleball complex area which will activate recreational space that would otherwise be unused eight months of the year, when ice cannot be available for the outdoor skating rink. The six pickleball courts will be fully surfaced (colored paint and stripping) and will not decrease the thickness of ice. The City of Aitkin has learned from the company who installed the ice rink there is a white powdered paint that can be mixed in when preparing to lay ice for the season. This helps protect the ice from not only the colored courts underneath, but from UV sunlight as well. The warming house is the second part of the first phase, which will additionally serve as a community space for classes, meetings, community education programming, celebrations, and birthday parties. The City of Aitkin was awarded grant funding from the MN DNR which included the full project, both the hockey rink/pickleball complex and warming house. In order to receive the grant money the City was awarded, the “warming house/community space” needs to be finished.

The remaining phases of the comprehensive park plan include updating playground equipment, improving the walking/biking trails, enhancing the Tibbetts Trails and Park area, and our river trails. As planning progresses in each phase, sustainability will be considered along with park maintenance. The Aitkin Parks and Recreation Subcommittee is currently working with a company with the mission to create designs and concept maps that lay out our overall vision and engage the community for input. A community needs assessment will be available in online community surveys and forums located on the new Aitkin Community Parks website (www.aitkincommunitypark.org). The City of Aitkin would like to know what our community would like to see as part of our park amenities such as basketball courts, circuit equipment or perhaps even a splash pad. When survey/s and community forum/s are available, the public will be notified via the Aitkin Age Newspaper, social media outlets, and on the radio. The community will be directed to visit our site and click on the community engagement page to complete upcoming survey/s and forum/s.

The mission of the Aitkin Parks and Recreation Subcommittee is to enhance quality of life by providing safe, well-maintained parks; preserving open space; caring for people of all ages and disabilities; and strengthening the bonds of community. Please visit our website to stay informed, view the projects and planning process, participate in community forums or surveys, and submit a contact form if you would like to help or volunteer. A donation page will also be located on this site if you would like to make a contribution.




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