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Parks and Rec plan adopted: Bemidji Council approves new strategic outline for city department

BEMIDJI—A new strategic plan that outlines goals and priorities from 2018-2020 for the Bemidji Parks and Recreation Department was approved Monday by the City Council.

The plan, which was developed last fall, was created as a response to an increase in demand, use and participation in the department's recreation programming as well as a higher amount of use at the city's facilities, parks and trails.

Much of the plan focused on three main priorities for the department to work on over the next three years. They included:

• Improving access to the department.

• Improving and or increasing staff capacity for both parks and recreation.

• Improving marketing and promotion.

For the first priority, courses of action suggested in the plan included finding or building a new visible and accessible "storefront" space for the department recreation staff and for indoor programming. Additionally, the department plans to improve locational and directional signage for the city's parks, trails and offices.

Along with physical structures, the plan includes the department expanding its online operation, with an improved website and more of a social media presence. The plan even states that the department will explore and potentially incorporate a park tour app.

When it comes to staffing, the department plans to explore hiring an additional full time assistant camp director while also creating another full time recreation special event position to implement programs. For both the first and second priorities, the plan outlines conducting both facility and worktime studies.

The final goal includes an objective to increase general promotion of the individual and community benefits of parks and trails. To do so, the department plans to have a biweekly or a monthly interview series on upcoming recreation events that will be available online. Plus, the department staff plans to attend more events, such as the Blue Ox Marathon, to promote the parks and trails.

"We know the plan could change and things will change, but we'll do the best we can to keep this moving forward," Parks and Recreation Director Marcia Larson said.

Before the plan was approved, Ward 5 Council member Nancy Erickson praised Larson and the department for their work up in the past and for strategizing the future.

"When I first came on the City Council, I don't recall these kinds of activities until you came here. I'd just like to publicly acknowledge the work you've done, you've really done a fantastic job," Erickson said. "You've provided lots and lots of interesting things in the summer for kids of all ages."

"I want to also commend Marcia and her staff, as well as the Parks and Trails Commission," added Ward 1 Council member Michael Meehlhause. "I was appointed to this group toward the end of their planning process, so I didn't see the whole process, but I think in this community we're really lucky to have such an active group of citizens who aren't just passionate about our parks, trails and the opportunities they offer but are mindful about being good stewards of what we have and maintaining it, too."

Asbestos removal at Carnegie

The council also took action Monday on a recommendation to add $10,000 to an asbestos removal project at the historic Carnegie Library building. On April 2, the council awarded a $30,490 contract to Environmental Plant Services for the removal of asbestos from the building.

However, the initial contract didn't include work for air quality monitoring while the removal takes place. According to city documents, Widseth Smith Nolting proposed to do the work, utilizing the services of Legend Technical Services, Inc., with the amount coming to $10,000.

The council approved the addition, with the dollars coming from an existing fund of money that has been raised to help restore the Carnegie Library building. As of March 25, the fund had $1.52 million.

The funds have been raised by the Save the Carnegie Steering Committee, which has been collecting money since 2012 to save the building from potential demolition. Their hope is to move the building back from Bemidji Avenue to avoid damage from street maintenance, while also restoring the interior and exterior. Plus, their plan includes renovating other aspects such as the windows, garden space and HVAC system.

According to City Engineer Craig Gray, asbestos removal is required, regardless if the building is moved, renovated or demolished.

Matthew Liedke

Matthew Liedke is the city, county and state government reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer. He also covers business, politics and financial news.

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