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Revised Aspen Park plan meets ballfield, pool needs
Voters to decide fate of $14.8M plan at Oct. 29 election
By By Jill Meier
Challenger editor

August 15. 2013 10:27AM
Brandon voters will go to the polls in late October to decide the fate of $14,851,175 in expansion and improvements to the city’s Aspen Park.

The Brandon City Council is expected to put the Oct. 29 election process into motion with approval of a formal resolution at their meeting next Monday. It’s the first bond referendum the city has presented to voters in more than 20 years, and that bond referendum was for the current swimming pool.

If voters approve the bond referendum, construction would start in 2014 with the new fields ready for play by the spring of 2016.

City resident Dean Pierson voiced his support for the proposed $14.8M plan. He came to Brandon about the same time the current facility was put together. “That facility has given of itself and given of itself, and I think it’s time to put some funds and energy into a new ballpark,” he said.

Pierson added that parks are important amenities for growing cities, such as Brandon.
“It (Aspen Park) needs some help. It needs some love and tender care,” he said, “and I support a bond issue.”

Although the project is estimated at $14.8 million, voters will be asked to approve a $12.5 million general obligation bond. The remaining $2.3 million will come from the city’s third-penny sales tax, which has generated about $180,000 annually the last four years, according to City Administrator Bryan Read. That number, however, could be lessened by donations from the softball and baseball associations, and corporate funding the two groups may pursue.

Read said the third-penny sales tax sits at about $180,000 currently. “So we could buy down that bond,” he said.

Read said voters will be asked to approve the $12.5 general obligation bond, which would be paid off over 10 years, with the city making an annual payment of $1,465,381.33.

“We could extend the term of the bond 10 to 15 years,” Read said, “but we’ll outgrow the expansion before then and we don’t want to tie up our debt capacity any longer than we have to.”

Property taxes will go up in order to fund the park expansion and improvements. Read said that for every $1,000 of taxable valuation (not assessed valuation), property owners will be taxed $3. So, if a home’s taxable valuation is $200,000, that property owner would pay $596.40 more per year for 10 years.

After nearly a year of planning, a taskforce of the citizen-led Park Advisory Committee presented an initial master plan to the Council in late May. Also tagged at $14.8 million, that proposal did not include any improvements to the pool.

Council members, however, asked the taskforce to address the pool needs, which the taskforce did by directing $2.3 million to the facility. Those improvements entail eliminating the current wading pool and replacing it with a zero-depth entry pool.
Aquatic play elements for the zero-depth entry pool are also included in the plans. The existing pool will remain largely the same with the exception of the addition of basketball hoops and a rock-climbing wall.

Although the existing pool will not be increased in size, capacity will increase from 323 to 475, according to Read. The pool, however, has not met capacity for three to four seasons, he said.

Some behind-the-scenes improvements, such as filters and pumps, will also be replaced.

“A lot of the equipment is 20-plus years old, and many of the improvements the public won’t even see,” he said.

Three years ago, the City Council initiated a study for an outdoor aquatic center. That plan was priced at $12 million itself, and included a lazy river, splash park, new pool, etc.

“At that point in time, we couldn’t justify that expense even though capacity was an issue then,” Read said.

The revised ballpark plan includes an assortment of fields (agri-lime, a turf field for Little League, and a collegiate-sized stadium for baseball). The plan also provides more space for tee ball, concessions and restrooms, picnic pavilion and relocated playground, more parking, a second access to the park from Ironwood Street (with access to Highway 11 and Sioux Boulevard). Eliminated from the original plan was a VFW-sized baseball field.

Alderwoman Mindy Hansen asked if the baseball and softball organizations would be contributing to the project. She noted the 20 to 25 percent the soccer and tennis associations pledged to the construction costs of those respective facilities, as well as the hockey association.

In response, representatives from the two organizations pledged more than $100,000 to the project. The Brandon Valley Baseball Association offered $50,000 and the Brandon Valley Youth Softball Association committed $60,000. And both say more funding could be forthcoming.

“We are seeing the pressure with us and baseball needing these fields,” said Kevin Thelen, spokesman for the BVYSA. “At the end of the day, we don’t want to turn a kid down. … That’s the basis of this whole expansion.”

This past summer, approximately 600 youth were involved in baseball and 500 kids participated in softball.

“This is a baseball and softball community,” said BVBA spokesman Trevor Guthmiller. “The next decade is what’s really scaring us, and we need additional fields … so that every kid who wants to play baseball can play baseball.”

As the city’s population increases, so does participation numbers in programs such as baseball and softball. Al Kirkeby, spokesperson for the taskforce, said projections show those programs are on pace to add one team per year. And keeping with that pace, the proposed expansion will hit capacity in 11 to 15 years, he said.

Both Guthmiller and Thelen recognized the economic benefits the organizations provide to the city. Combined, the baseball and softball associations staged six tournaments here this summer, bringing just under 400 teams and their fans to the city. By adding facilities, including the championship baseball field, the organizations could possibly host state and national tournaments.

“Brandon Valley has qualified for the state (baseball) the last two years but we’ve haven’t been able to host it,” Guthmiller said. “And I think we could host a darn fine tournament here in Brandon.”

Both men also touched on safety issues. Guthmiller said having a second entrance/exit to/from Aspen Park would alleviate concerns when stormy weather arises. Thelen mentioned the shade structures, which would keep fans from being hit by foul balls.

Jon Jacobson, chairman of the Park Advisory Committee, said the community should take advantage of the available land. “Nationally, it’s hard to get a large amount of fields in one space,” he said. “If we put this many fields in one place, it’s a big deal economically. … It’s a large commitment, but a huge asset (and) parks and green space are one of the largest draws to a community.”

Alderwoman Barb Fish asked if the city could afford the project with general fund money.

Read said that while it was possible, it would take the city’s entire park budget for the next 20 years plus.
“Without shutting down everything we do as a city, we would need to do a bond issue,” he said.

Aaron Hansen, owner of the Pizza Ranch, said players and fans often dine at his restaurant while here for tournaments and league games.

“We see a lot of people from the tournaments and the four most common complaints from out-of-towners is the field conditions, over-crowding, bathrooms and lodging,” he said.

“Maybe we should be looking at building a hotel,” Fish joked.
The Aspen Park Bond Referendum
Amount: $12,500,000

Term: 10 years

Rate: 3 percent

Annual payment: $1,465,381.33

Taxable value: $491,411,814

Tax rate: 0.0030

Taxable valuation:
$100,000 - $298.20 more in taxes annually
$150,000 - $447.30
$200,000 - $596.40
$250,000 - $745.50
$300,000 - $894.59
$350,000 - $1,043.69
$400,000 - $1,192.79

The $14.8 million expansion and improvement plan at the city's Aspen Park will provide more playing fields for the more than 1,000 youth that participate in softball and baseball each summer here. Challenger file photo

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