Council gives its blessing to splash pad, skate park project in Little Falls

By Terry Lehrke, News Editor

Dustin Simmonds, a member of the Mayor’s Youth Task Force since its inception three years ago, spoke to the Little Falls City Council Monday, asking for its support of a splash pad, skate park, as Mary Kenna, back left, and Aaron Sinclair looked on. Kenna, an adult mentor for the Mayor’s Youth Task Force, is also a member of the Little Falls Area Recreation Complex Task Force, as is Sinclair.
Dustin Simmonds, a member of the Mayor’s Youth Task Force since its inception three years ago, spoke to the Little Falls City Council Monday, asking for its support of a splash pad, skate park, as Mary Kenna, back left, and Aaron Sinclair looked on. Kenna, an adult mentor for the Mayor’s Youth Task Force, is also a member of the Little Falls Area Recreation Complex Task Force, as is Sinclair.

The Little Falls City Council was applauded Monday, when it gave the go-ahead for a splash pad, skate park in Little Falls.

Mary Kenna, representing the Little Falls Area Recreation Complex Task Force, officially asked for the Council’s blessing and direction for the project.

Members of the Little Falls Area Recreation Complex Task Force and the Mayor’s Youth Task Force filled the Council Chamber to show support.

With the Council’s blessing, the groups can now ask for community support through fundraisers, donations and will seek grants. They can also begin to look at specific designs and research costs.

The splash pad and skate park will be the first part of the first of two phases of a plan for 20 acres donated to the city by the Minnesota Department of Transportation, just north of the city on Heron Road.

Members of the Little Falls Area Recreation Complex Task Force, initiated last fall, include business leaders, community members and representatives from the Little Falls School District.

Dustin Simmonds, current chair of the Mayor’s Youth Task Force, has been with the group since its inception in January 2010.

“We have worked since I was a senior in high school,” said Simmonds, who is now in his second year of college. “We’ve built up partnerships over the last three years … We’re not expecting much from the City Council, but your nod of approval — just a nod — so we can get started.

“We’re not looking for money and not looking for any sort of legally binding things here,” he said. “Everyone here can agree that we’re more than just willing to get the work done — we’re happy to do it — we just need you to let us do it.”

Aaron Sinclair, activities director for the Little Falls School District, a member of the Recreation Complex Task Force, said the district was committed to the project and “incredibly excited” to collaborate with different organizations to move the process forward.

“We do have a vested interest in developing facilities for our kids; whether a skate park, splash pad or baseball fields,” he said.

Sinclair said the district could offer its expertise in searching for grants and managing the process. Pointing to the reconstruction of a softball field and the building of a new softball field, Sinclair said the district had gained some experience over the past few years. The work, he said, was done with a lot of hard work by coaches and community leaders.

“We can lend some of that same expertise to this project,” he said.

Little Falls High School Principal Tim Bjorge said he was thankful Simmonds had continued with the effort after graduation.

Bjorge said having grown up in Little Falls, he knew the community definitely had some needs and was looking forward to partnering with the city and community “to do some really good things with our kids … I think we need to move forward.”

Starting with two anchor projects, he said, would begin the process for a lot of the things people would like to see in the community.

“There’s a lot of opportunity and a lot of hope that we can do some things together,” he said.

The Council was presented with four sketches of the possible layout of a recreational complex that, one day, might include baseball fields, a community center, disc golf, a horseshoe and picnic area, basketball courts, a doggie park perhaps, lots of parking and a splash pad and skate park.

Andrea Lauer, mayor of Royalton, a city which has completed a skate park project and is working on a splash pad, shared how Royalton’s Council had been approached by youths in much the same way the Little Falls Council had.

She shared some of the process and said that starting with a small part of the project was a good idea. She told of many meetings, that continue, many grant applications and lots of work.

“You’ve got people who have put in a lot of time already,” said Lauer. “I think your city is doing absolutely wonderful and kudos for you council members for standing  up and saying, ‘Yes, we’ll support this.”

Council President Don Klinker verified the groups were not asking for money from the city, but just approval to move forward with grants and begin the work.

Council Member At Large Brian-Paul Crowder wanted to ensure the city wouldn’t be legally obligated to the project or bound to the sketches shown. City Administrator Dan Vogt assured the Council he would speak with the city’s attorney.

“We want to be able to go out and say that we’re working with the city to get a splash pad, skate park going,” said Kenna. “And we need to know from you what you need during the process.”

Council Member Greg Zylka said he applauded the committees. “Just because we have questions and concerns, don’t think we don’t support the project,” he said.

“As a new councilman and learning about this city, I would ask you to proceed cautiously,” he said. “We wish you good luck and hope you succeed.”

Mayor Cathy VanRisseghem said she was extremely proud of the Mayor’s Youth Task Force and the work they’ve done.

“They’ve been going for three years basically on nothing; they have never been given any hope,” she said. “This is a light at the end of the tunnel. They kept going out there and promoting activities and seeking thoughts from groups. I’m extremely proud of them. They kept going — I know they will see this through to the end.”

VanRisseghem said several different groups are beginning to work together to support each other and not double effort.

The Youth Task Force meets Monday, at 5 p.m. in the Alliance Church lobby. A meeting with multiple groups is set for Wednesday, Feb. 27, at 4:30 p.m. at City Hall.

Little Falls City Council Briefs


In other business Monday during its work session, the Little Falls City Council:

• Reviewed various pieces of property owned by the city, which the Council would place a value on during a closed session; and

• Discussed discontinuing the practice of using city equipment on any property not owned by the city, which presents liability issues for the city, including using the street sweeper at Oakland Cemetery. Last year, the Council discontinued the practice of the city plowing snow at area cemeteries, since most were taken care of by the owners.

During its regular meeting, the Council:

• Accepted from the Lindbergh Historic Site, the gift of a bust of Charles A. Lindbergh;

• Approved a 60-day going out of business license for Laura Hansen of Bookin’ It;

• Approved the purchase of eight 2008 E-Z Go electric golf carts from Versatile Vehicles in Savage, at a cost of $2,000 each, plus sales tax. The prices includes delivery, new batteries and trade-in. The country club currently has 30 electric golf carts that are rented out throughout the summer, which generates income;

• Received the Little Falls Fire and Rescue Department report, which showed the department currently has 34 volunteer firefighters with 178 documented hours of training. The department responded to 114 calls in 2012, compared to 136 in 2011, with an average of 21.31 personnel responding in an average response time of 3.02 minutes within city limits. Of the calls received by the department, 38 were outside city limits;

• Received the prosecution report from Morrison County Attorney Brian Middendorf, which showed the office drafted two complaints, attended arraignment court on five occasions, 19 pretrial, motion restitution and evidentiary hearings, 12 omnibus hearings, 17 plea hearings, sentencing or revocation hearings, nine Rule 5 and 8 hearings and tried two court cases;

• Received the December 2012 water treatment plant report which showed the total flow through the facility was 25,790 million gallons for the month;

• Approved an agreement between the city and Morrison County for road work on First Street Southeast, wherein the city will pay $53,861 for approximately 1,000 feet between Eighth Avenue Southeast and the city limits, which is the city’s responsibility;

• Received a letter from Alexandre Duran of Le Bourget, France, inviting 25 members from Little Falls to visit during a cultural exchange. Those involved in the exchange will stay in the homes of members of the France Sister City Committee from June 28 – July 8;

• Approved a grant agreement with the Minnesota Department of Transportation, Office of Aeronautics for improvements on the hangar and maintenance building, as well as a lighting upgrade at the Little Falls/Morrison County Airport; and

• Authorized a phosphorus reduction plan be submitted to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), to become a part of the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit, as requested by the MPCA.

The Council’s next regular meeting will be held at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 19, at City Hall.