The Free Press, Mankato, MN

July 4, 2013

Benson playground not part of plan

City was initially going to wait for more expensive playground

By Dan Linehan
The Mankato Free Press

---- — NORTH MANKATO — The original plan for North Mankato’s Benson Park called for a wood playground in the north-central part of the park, near a parking lot. It was to include a treehouse-like feature to help it blend in with the park’s natural theme.

But wooden playgrounds are expensive, an estimated $100,000 in this case, and the city didn’t have the money. It did, however, have $20,000 to buy a plastic playground, which it did last year with local sales tax money.

Now, after nearby families weighed in, the City Council decided on a 3-2 vote Monday to put the plastic equipment near the parking lot in Benson Park. But those two council members and at least two people on the park committee wanted to stick to the original plan and the more natural-looking play area.

“I consider the whole park nature itself,” Councilman Kim Spears said. “It wouldn’t take much to start throwing a little thing here and a little thing there and pretty soon it’s all lost its vision and it’s another field in the middle of our city.”

But Councilwoman Diane Norland, who chaired the citizen committee that helped plan the park, said that a playground was already part of the plan and it will help families who don’t want to wait years for a swingset.

“It’s a temporary addition until we get the more natural play structure up in a few more years,” she said.

Like several other families, the Larsons live in a cul-de-sac across the street from the park. And Dad, Phil, says the only thing that will get his three young kids in the park is a playground.

And if the city waits to put in the more expensive playground, “you basically skip the generation of kids who’re here now,” he said.

Norland said the playground was purchased last year, and was initially going to be placed in the southwest part of the park. But residents of nearby townhomes were concerned about the noise a playground would bring, Norland said. So the city looked to the spot where the wood playground was initially planned to be installed.

Though she hasn’t seen it, Norland said she’s been told the playground is green and brown — not a bright neon color that would clash with the natural setting.

Park committee member Scott Thiem said the nearby parents have a strong argument for installing the equipment.

But he said it doesn’t fit the plan and would have preferred to wait. And he’s not sure why the equipment was bought at all last year, because the committee is, as Norland put it Monday, “on hiatus.”

Thiem said the park’s master plan was adopted in 2009, but a lack of funding has delayed the playground, bathrooms, shelter area, oak savannah and other amenities.

“We haven’t gotten very far and mainly because of the funding,” Thiem said.

Norland said a fundraising group for the park is being formed, and the city will continue to make requests for Legacy funding.

At least one other committee member didn’t agree with the change, Norland said, though she declined to name the person.

The new playground is expected to be installed in about two weeks, Mayor Mark Dehen, who helped lead this effort, said Monday.