Enthusiasts promoting the addition of a splashpad in Brainerd early on selected Gregory Park as the preferred site.

The public will have a chance to weigh in on the splashpad, the Gregory Park option or suggest other locations today. A meeting is planned from 7-8 p.m., Tuesday, at the Brainerd Fire Department meeting room.

Gregory Park, Brainerd's central park was carved out of the woods and preserved in the city's early days. It provides tennis courts, basketball court, playground, picnic area, ice skating and space to throw a Frisbee, play football or simply enjoy an afternoon outside or a Thursday night concert. It is often a stopping site for people on a work lunch break or for family gatherings and it hosts the annual Arts in the Park during the Fourth of July celebrations. Now the question before the city council in the near future may be whether it should be the site for the city's first splashpad.

Last August, a small group of area residents, in their 30s with children, sought the city's blessing in starting a fundraising campaign for a splashpad they wanted to have in Gregory Park.

At the time, Brainerd City Council member Mary Koep noted there were a few ideas put forth to honor the late Bob Olson, former mayor and long-time city council member. One of the proposals when the splashpad effort began about a year ago was to name it to honor Olson. A splashpad offers a place to play and cool off without benefit of a pool. Large flowers can serve as a delivery vehicle to cascade water down on participants.

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Public meeting on splashpad is Tuesday

A public input meeting on a proposed splash pad will take place from 7-8 p.m. Tuesday, July 19, at the Brainerd Fire Department meeting room.

The proposed site for the splashpad is at Gregory Park. The Brainerd Park Board is seeking input from the public regarding the proposed location, or other potential sites.

Information regarding the proposed splashpad, as well as the fundraising information, will be presented.

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Josh Mohr suggested the idea in responding to a request on what residents would like to see in the area for young families. A former northside Brainerd resident sent an email to Koep that was a bit on the critical side after a city council discussion on the merits of the proposed river walk. Koep asked him to meet with her. They ended up talking for three hours. Koep said one of benefits of the effort was having young people interested and willing to take the project on by promoting the idea and helping to raise funds. For Mohr, with a young son, it was the first time getting involved with such a project. He said beyond being a parent, he wanted to make a difference as well. That was a driver for Emily Noble as well. She noted she previously tried to get a youth center in Brainerd.

"This time I'm a mom and I'm not going to fail," Noble said.

"I just like being involved in the community anyway I can," said Meta Mandich, who first got involved as Mohr's co-worker. Now Mandich and Noble are the main torchbearers for the project. They have a goal of raising $300,000 to $500,000 for the splashpad and to pay for it out of donations. They've now partnered with the Initiative Foundation, which is serving as a fiscal agent and resource.

"This project is more than just a fancy new water feature in our park, it's about connecting. A place that Brainerd and it's residents can be proud of, because it was built by us!" a post on Splash Pad Brainerd's Facebook page states.

To that end, Mandich and Noble set up the RBC Fundraisers, which stands for Rebuilding Brainerd's Community.

Last summer, the fundraising started with $1,000 donation from the Olson family and another $500 anonymous donation.

"I'm just delighted that this idea came up," Cathy Olson said last summer. She said Gregory Park was the only place she could envision it. She noted they used to listen to the kids playing in the park and the concerts. Members of Olson's family said it was encouraging to know their father was going to be remembered.

Initially with the idea of naming the splashpad for Bob Olson, Gregory Park seemed appropriate. Bob and Cathy Olson raised 11 children and lived across from the park for many years. But Monday Noble said with the large money they are faced with raising, they need to keep the naming rights open because that could potentially come from a large commercial donor.

The idea of adding a splashpad has been tossed around the community for a number of years.

Tony Sailer, Brainerd parks and recreation director, said with the recent fundraising efforts to update two of the tennis courts at Gregory Park, to add a dog park to the city and establish the Miracle Field to make park activities more accessible to everyone, he has been raising funds for Brainerd's parks for years. He said a splashpad was another piece of the puzzle, but also came with an expensive price tag at and ongoing maintenance such as chlorination. Sailer also noted splashpads are popping up in communities. At the same time, the city is trying to raise funds to repair/replace the iconic Gregory Park fountain built in 1967, which Bob Olson helped save from demolition years ago.

Next steps included planning and hosting a neighborhood meeting. Concerns raised by residents included hours of operation, noise and parking in what has been traditionally a relatively passive park. Koep said having the splashpad in Gregory Park means it is centrally located and available to a wide range of ages. Noble said hearing kids play was a great sound and was part of encouraging kids to be more active.

"We need more outside activity for our kids," Noble said.

Buoyed by excitement organizers went first to the city council for a blessing but didn't bring the idea to the city's parks commission before advancing it to the council or promoting it on social media. On their Facebook page organizers apologized for crossing any boundaries.

"With the amount of support we have on this, there is no doubt this project will succeed," a Facebook post on Splash Pad Brainerd stated. "We just need to do a little backtracking and make sure all bases are covered."

A fundraising page on the splashpad's Facebook site lists GiveMN.org as the donation site with the most recent post listing $133.62 raised on a $500,000 goal. Organizers behind the project expect to offer a Power Point presentation for today's meeting. As for location, Noble said they looked at aerial views of several parks including Kiwanis and Lum Park, but Gregory provided the level ground. They didn't look at Memorial or Mill parks noting they are heavily used for softball. Gregory Park is on 8.4 acres. Bane Park covers 9 acres, Buffalo Hills/Lions Park is on 20 acres, Jaycees Park is on 35 acres, Kiwanis Park and O'Brien Park both are on 4 acres, Lum Park is on 55 acres, Memorial Park is on 28 acres, Mill Avenue Park is on 12 acres, Triangle Park covers a half acre.

The parks board recently voted 4-1 in favor of having the splashpad in Gregory Park. One of the recommendations was to host a public information meeting as a next step.

 

RENEE RICHARDSON, associate editor, may be reached at 218-855-5852 or renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Dispatchbizbuzz.