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Bemidji City Council: Outdoor hockey rink debated

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News Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Pioneer
(218) 333-9819 customer support
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

A difference in opinion as to how to best develop the outdoor hockey rink at Bemidji City Park resulted in having no plans for an outdoor hockey rink in the park.

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But the impasse only lasted for only about one minute before the situation was addressed.

The Bemidji City Council Monday evening struggled with trying to find a way to have the Bemidji Youth Hockey Association have a more prominent role in the development of the outdoor rink at City Park.

City Park is slated to undergo the second, and final, phase of renovation this summer as the city's "activity park" is revamped to include a four-field softball complex, 18-hole disc golf course, expanded ski trails, a skate park and other amenities, such as a playground and picnic area.

The Hockey Association met with city staff last week in hopes of finding a solution through which the outdoor rink could have a better surface and improved dasher boards.

Marcia Larson, the city's parks and recreation director, told the council that the Hockey Association would like to serve as a construction manager for the hockey rink portion of the project.

The Hockey Association believed it could produce enough cost-savings that would fund upgrades to the rink if it could be allowed to handle the work itself.

But City Attorney Al Felix, who was unable to attend last week's staff meeting with the Hockey association, had several "concerns."

Most focused on the city's need to follow the "uniform contract process," which ensures that all potential bidders have the same scenarios from which to bid.

Unlike a private development, a city-sponsored project must be put out to bid.

Craig Gray, the city's public works director/city engineer, explained the situation this way: The city must develop a written packet that explains exactly what the project is and all the work it entails.

Those packets of information must to sent to a minimum of three licensed contractors, who all are bidding, then, on the exact same information.

Gray said he had no doubt that he could save money on a large city project, such as redoing all of the city's sidewalks, by meeting one-on-one with a contractor.

But the city is not allowed to do that, he said.

"You can't just pick your contractor" like a private developer can, Gray said.

The Hockey Association, represented at the meeting by Hugh Welle, wanted to manage the project so it could incorporate "composite" dasher boards instead of regular wood. It also preferred a concrete base for the ice rink.

Welle said the Hockey Association managed the Bemidji Community Arena project and has the knowledge and skills to guide the construction process.

Felix said he did not doubt that, but that the process needs to be followed.

"They have to step back and let the process do what the process does," he said.

Felix noted, too, that the bid process is expected to be very competitive. He suggested that the council direct its consultant, Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc., to develop an alternate bid for the composite boards (alternate bids have already been planned for the asphalt or concrete base surface).

Councilors Jerry Downs and Kevin Waldhausen were opposed to this idea, both stating that they believed there should be a way to meet the legal requirements while still having the Hockey Association involved.

It is a cost-savings measure, Downs said.

Welle said that if volunteers would be used - which was a potential money-saving possibility - they would provide the work under a licensed contractor, as was done on the BCA.

As a governmental entity, though, said Mayor Richard Lehmann, the city of Bemidji has to follow certain procedures.

Downs made a motion to approve the plans and specifications for Bemidji City Park and authorize the advertisement for bids - but the motion included a stipulation that the hockey rink be pulled from the project, presumably to have Felix and city staff meet to try to come to a resolution on the legalities of having the Hockey Association involved in the construction.

The motion passed 6-1, as Councilor Greg Negard was opposed. He said the city had to be transparent throughout the entire bidding process, even if it does result in a higher price tag.

"That's the way we have to do business," he said.

Following the vote, the council and staff discussed the impact of having the hockey rink removed from the bid package for City Park.

Waldhausen made a motion to revise the bid specifications to include composite dasher boards. He said the Hockey Association believes it will save money in the long run by having a higher-quality product that will not require as much maintenance.

If cost-savings are found through competitive bids, Waldhausen said, he would want them applied toward the upgrades to the hockey rink.

"There are many, many other parts to this project that were cut drastically in order to keep this at budget," responded City Manager John Chattin.

The hockey rink is not the only aspect of City Park that could benefit from upgrades that would keep long-term costs lower, Chattin reasoned.

"I appreciate the argument, but an argument could be made for many other aspects," he said.

Waldhausen withdrew his motion.

A subsequent motion from Councilor Barb Meuers to add the hockey rink back into the overall plans for City Park - and include an alternate bid for composite dasher boards - died due to a lack of second.

There was a moment of impromptu silence, which was only broken once Larson asked, "So City Park will not have an outdoor rink?"

She implored the council to reconsider its actions, saying that an outdoor hockey rink is a community need.

Since it did not seem to be an option to have the Hockey Association serve as a construction manager, Larson said, she wanted the hockey rink included back into the overall City Park project.

"I'd hate to see us leave this meeting without this in the bid specs," she said.

Meuers again made her motion to add the hockey rink back into City Park plans and include an alternate bid for composite dasher boards. Councilor Ron Johnson seconded the motion and it passed 5-2. Downs and Waldhausen were opposed.

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Bethany Wesley
(218) 333-9200 x337
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