Mayor asks Council to allow city staff to help with plans to take advantage of donation and future grants
By Terry Lehrke, News Editor
Although not formally received just yet, the Little Falls City Council learned Monday an anonymous donor wants to donate $100,000 to the city.
The money is to be used to build a playground near the future splash pad, all-wheel skate park in Little Falls.
Later in the week, Paul Twitchell and his wife, Emily Siles-Twitchell agreed to let it be known they were the donors.
Paul, son of Steve and Mary Twitchell of Little Falls, graduated from Little Falls Community High School and currently lives in Austin, Texas.
The couple wanted to give back to the area. The Twitchells lost a baby girl at birth, Taylor Chebet. They want the playground to be dedicated to their child.
The Little Falls Area Recreation Task Force is working to come up with the vision and phases for the recreational area. The playground will be part of Phase I, followed by the splash pad, skate park, and one day perhaps a community center, disc golf, baseball diamonds and more.
This recreational area will sit on 22 acres of land donated by the Minnesota Department of Transportation, north of Little Falls — a donation valued at $100,000 as well.
In February, the Mayor’s Youth Task Force, which has taken on the task of fundraising and developing the splash pad, all-wheel skate park, received the Little Falls City Council’s blessing to move forward.
In light of the $100,000 donation, Little Falls Mayor Cathy VanRisseghem asked the City Council for permission to use city staff time in coming up with designs for the playground area. She said the money had to be used, probably by spring, and not left sitting around unused.
The Council gave its unanimous support, despite a few questions from Council Member At Large Brian-Paul Crowder regarding whether there were any “strings” to the donation and how much time from an already busy city staff was needed to design the project.
VanRisseghem said the Task Force already had some designs put together and was working with the Boys and Girls Club for ideas. She believed staff hours used would be few.
Council Member Greg Zylka said when he was on the School Board and the district was talking about baseball fields, Jerry Lochner had put some time in.
“I think the precedent has been set,” said Zylka. Staff time, he said, “Potentially could be put in at the discretion of the city administrator … even if it’s a playground, we’re going to have to do some investigating to see if we can build a playground for $100,000. If you’re not going to look into those things, I don’t think you’ll ever find out. I hate to invest time into it, but I think to come up for a concept for a playground, you talk to a couple of playground companies and they’ll do it for you.”
Council Member Leeann Doucette said that while she and the mayor were manning a booth at the Morrison County Fair, they heard from residents in other nearby cities asking when the splash pad, skate park would be complete.
“So many outside the area want Little Falls to have this so they wouldn’t have to drive so far to other areas and then maybe get something similar in their area,” said Doucette.
“On the backs of Little Falls taxpayers,” said Crowder.
VanRisseghem said, “The more people you draw to your community, the more money they spend. This is a part of economic development and that’s what we’re trying to do with this project, bring more people to our community so that our businesses can make more money and survive.”
The Mayor’s Youth Task Force, a group that has taken on the task of developing the splash pad, all-wheel skate park, will meet Monday, at 5 p.m. at the Alliance Church in Little Falls. The main agenda item will be the design for the playground, splash pad and all-wheel park.
VanRisseghem said when the design is complete, the group can move forward with fundraising efforts, grant writing, seeking donations and marketing.