Duluth mayor offers city help to solve Congdon Park ice rink problemMayor Don Ness has offered the city’s support in resolving the saga of the Congdon Park ice rinks.
By: Jana Hollingsworth, Duluth News Tribune
Mayor Don Ness has offered the city’s support in resolving the saga of the Congdon Park ice rinks.
Another meeting was held Tuesday with the school’s recreation committee to come to some sort of resolution on the construction plans for the Congdon Park Elementary School, which include moving three ice rinks and a warming shack to make room for more parking, safer drop-off space for parents and better handicap accessibility. A group, Save the Rinks, has been working to either keep the rinks in place or find some sort of compromise.
In response, the Duluth school district has a new plan that would move the three rinks and warming shack around on the school site, shrinking the planned parking lot. But to do that, the district needs financial support from the community and city and the approval by the city of two variances.
“If there is a role for the city to play through variances or participation on the parks side, we’re happy to do that,” Ness said at the meeting. “We want to maintain the quality of life that’s so important and why people are so passionate about this site.”
The parks fund isn’t designed to create big expensive park projects, Ness said, but the city could spend $100,000 from the voter-approved parks levy to help pay for the Congdon recreation space.
“There is community recreation interest involved in this discussion,” Ness said, and so it fits that the city could help. “But I am sensing this is kind of poisonous on a lot of different levels. Folks have dug in deep and said ‘these are my interests and everyone can work around it.’ … I’m hopeful a compromise can be found.”
In explanation, Congdon Park rinks director David Meierhoff said the people affiliated with Save the Rinks and rink users have something to lose.
“It’s unfortunate we’re coming across a little aggressive,” he said. “If we seem a little defensive, it’s because we’re on the bucket. We feel odd man out.”
Save the Rinks organized a petition that has more than 1,800 signatures in support of its efforts.
Meierhoff said if money weren’t an issue, he’d be happy with the new plan. Still, he and other organizers wanted district-hired engineers to meet with engineers they had consulted with about other alternatives. The district agreed to do so.
The new plans require retaining walls, artificial turf, a new warming shack and site work. The district has the money for the walls and site work, said Superintendent Bill Gronseth, but about $250,000 is needed for the turf, which would prevent the usual post-winter muddy fields and allow the rinks to be used by the school year-round. The warming shack could cost between $150,000 and $400,000. Taking into account possible money from the city, the community would need to raise between $300,000 and $400,000. Money probalby would also be needed for lights, Meierhoff said.
Gronseth suggested the turf could be added later if not enough was raised in time for the opening of the school, set for fall 2013.
Alternate plans that would have placed either the rinks or the parking lot across Greysolon Place appear to be abandoned. The district bought three of the five homes it needed to do that, and will probably put them back on the market. The remaining homeowners have said they wouldn’t sell or their price had not been met.
“When the original plan was made, there were codes and recommendations from the state about how big an elementary site has to be,” Gronseth said. “New legislation recognizes needs of urban schools being on more compact sites. Congdon is one of those buildings.”
The district hopes to bring final plans before the School Board for a vote at its regular Feb. 28 meeting.