May 16, 2023 at 2:37 p.m.
Wetland inspection, tennis-pickleball facility move ahead
Albany’s largest city park has entered a long-discussed transformation.
Brush and dead tree removal in North Park is winding down after two months.
Excavation work started on a new six-court pickleball and tennis facility that’s scheduled for completion by mid-July, along with a pedestrian trail and boardwalk along the northern shoreline of North Lake or south of the Jaycee shelter.
A fenced dog park is also scheduled for completion by mid-summer.
City leaders and a group of volunteers have spent the better part of three months defining those improvements via a phased planning process.
Interaction between Albany City Council, the Albany Park Board, Bryan Schiffler, and a group identified as Friends of the North Park has been contentious at times.
That friction showed signs of finally easing after a May 3 council North Park update.
Council members concurred in accepting the results of a recently completed Stearns County Environmental Services wetland site inspection.
Environmental specialist Jennifer Kaminskie met with city officials in late April. She discussed wetland locations that could be affected by park improvements, specifically excavation of wetland to create a proposed pond and a boardwalk along the North Lake shoreline. Kaminskie said construction could proceed, and no wetland violations had occurred.
The council also approved a final construction design for a single tennis court and new pickleball courts located on and around a slab of existing concrete.
Public works supervisor Joe Mergen presented those plans at the May 3 meeting.
City leaders and park board members have previously agreed any North Park improvement will be paid for by Schiffler and members of his community group.
Mergen said the city’s financial contribution for the one tennis and six pickleball court complex would be $28,500.
“If the city went out and tried to do this, I’d be willing to bet we’d be spending well over $100,000,” he said. “This is a good deal. It would be foolish to let it slip by.”
Councilor John Harlander has been critical of changes to previously approved pickleball court plans.
Last fall, the city spent $28,000 on site preparation for three pickleball courts east of the skateboard ramps.
Construction included black dirt removal, site grading, fabric installation, and gravel placement. No concrete was poured.
The status of the three-court is on hold, said clerk and administrator Tom Schneider.
During the council’s May 3 meeting, Harlander didn’t object to additional courts near the Jaycee shelter.
He did suggest building a tennis court and two pickleball courts in the new location in addition to completing the three original courts. Councilor Keith Heitzman concurred.
“This is a good compromise” Harlander said. “Do two pickleball and one tennis on the existing slab.”
Councilor Alan Amdahl did not object to one tennis court and six pickleball courts as proposed.
Councilor Adam Rushmeyer agreed with Mergen’s recommendation but questioned what would be the future plans for the area east of the skateboard ramps that had been set aside for three pickleball courts.
Rushmeyer also questioned if the city had funds available for its contribution to the North Park project.
Schneider said the city did have funds for the park improvement recommended in Mergen’s update.
Frank Haynes, representing Friends of the North Park, addressed the city’s funding.
“For the price of $28,500, you will get six pickleball courts and a tennis court and still have money you had put aside for those three pickleball courts in your coffers,” Haynes said, adding the Friends would take an important project off the city’s plate.
Mayor Tom Kasner replied the city needed to consider that point. Haynes’ comment was followed by Amdahl making a motion, seconded by Rushmeyer, to approve construction of one tennis court and six new pickleball courts as designed, using existing concrete on the former tennis court and the $28,500.
That motion was approved 3-2. Kasner, Amdahl and Rushmeyer voted yes. Harlander and Heitzman voted no.
Harlander then asked about an April 5 motion regarding the installation of new concrete.
Schneider recommended the council rescind that motion because of the council’s prior action to approve use of an existing piece of concrete.
Local contractors recommended salvaging the 50-year-old concrete slab. Kasner made a motion, seconded by Amdahl, to rescind the motion from the April 5 meeting.
That motion was for all-new concrete for the pickleball courts at the former tennis court site in North Park.
The motion to rescind regarding the April 5 motion passed 4-1. Harlander voted no.
Harlander pushed for the city cutting ties with the Friends of the North Park.
“I think it’s almost wrong for us to spend (almost) $30,000 of our money,” he said, referring to the combined tennis-pickleball courts cost.
Kasner said the council needed to stop rescinding motions regarding North Park.
“If it’s this difficult to get something done that’s been previously approved, then I would agree with you John, that the ties have to be cut. It should not take four meetings and two rescinded motions and three arguments to get this accomplished.”
Schiffler said last week excavation around the North Park courts started May 4.
“We began work the day after getting council approval,” Schiffler said. “We hope to have the pickleball courts up and running and leagues starting by mid-July. We also hope to have the dog park up and a dock and path along the northern shore of the lake fully operational for the most part by mid-summer.”
Schiffler is trying to accelerate Phase 1 to make sure people can enjoy the park.
Mergen praised Schiffler and the Friends of the North Park volunteers who have been working during off-hours to get the improvements started this spring.
“This is all volunteer,” Mergen said. “Bryan has been spearheading the whole thing and fundraising. Once they get the walking path in and the grass grows, it will look beautiful. Everybody just has to be a little bit patient on this. It will look really nice.”