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Remodel, splash pad construction under way at Memorial Park

Upgrades include new hockey rinks to double as pickleball courts in the summer, a pleasure ice rink, a four-season warming house, a playground, horseshoe pits, a picnic shelter and two bituminous walking/biking paths, along with upgrades to the softball field lights and concessions area.

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Emily Rolfson (left) and Meta Mandich, two Brainerd moms, talk excitedly Tuesday, May 12, about the splash pad that will soon be constructed at Memorial Park in northeast Brainerd. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

Sun shone and smiles abounded as city council, staff and community members gathered at Memorial Park in northeast Brainerd Tuesday, May 11, to break ground on the first phase of the park’s upcoming remodel.

“The one thing we’ve got going here in Brainerd is we’ve got these spaces that have been around for 150 years, and we continue to see them transformed into something new,” Mayor Dave Badeaux said to a small crowd Tuesday. What was old and what has been used for something continually changes and continually is morphing into a new space, and there’s something really exciting about that — about taking something that has been here for a really long time and taking a look at it and seeing what we can do and what the possibilities are.”

Once complete, the park will have new hockey rinks to double as pickleball courts in the summer, a general ice skating rink, a four-season warming house, a playground, horseshoe pits, a picnic shelter and two bituminous walking/biking paths, along with upgrades to the softball field lights and concessions area.

There will also be a splash pad, a project two Brainerd moms have worked on for the past five years.

Emily (Noble) Rolfson and Meta Mandich spearheaded a community effort to raise the roughly $200,000 needed to construct a splash pad in Brainerd. Help came along the way from the city, when council members agreed to put up $100,000 in matching funds if the community could raise the rest of the money.

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“First and foremost, we wouldn’t be at the end with all of you today if it wasn’t for our city council and our cheerleaders and our donors and everybody who’ve believed in us and strived for this to happen over the last five years,” Rolfson said Tuesday.

The splash pad will sit on the west side of the park entrance off Q Street.

“The pandemic has been rough, and we never gave up,” Roflson said. “And I can’t wait to be here and see everyone’s children gather and families playing and hearing the laughter and just having another safe and affordable greenspace in addition to what we already have in the Brainerd lakes area.”

“We can’t wait to make a splash,” Mandich added.

Badeaux praised the woman for their persistence and never giving up on the project, recalling how downtrodden they felt a year ago when visiting with him about the project shortly after he became director of Brainerd Community Action.

“The conversation we had a month ago, and comparing that to the conversation we had one year ago is amazing, and I can’t say enough about groups of people in our community that are willing to stand up and do the work, and you guys exemplify that more than anything,” Badeaux said.

City Engineer Paul Sandy thanked the engineers at WSB for their work on the designs for the park, while both Badeaux and Parks Board Chair Kevin Yeager also thanked city staff, the city council and the parks board members for coming together to make this park project happen. Members of the parks board are uncompensated for their work and often face criticism, Yeager said, making the time and energy they put in all the more meaningful.

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“That takes a lot of gumption to do that over and over and to get back in there and still keep fighting for what we see as a vision for our future,” Yeager said.

Badeaux applauded parks board members for the vision they had to maintain Memorial Park as more than just a park.

“To take these parks that we have — and we have an abundance of parks in Brainerd — to look at them not just as places that people are looking to meet, but spaces, and spaces that people want to be and trying to define what that means in terms of not just cutting a blade of grass but coming up with a reason for someone wanting to be somewhere,” he said. “And what makes me so excited about this space here is we’re not just looking at something that people can do in the winter or in the summer but year-round.”

There isn’t an exact timeline when all the work will be done — including the splash pad — so for now, city officials will celebrate the teamwork that went in to making this project happen.

“This project represents — in my opinion — what cities should really strive for,” Yeager said Tuesday. “And that is the ambitions of, again, unpaid people with a vision, uncompensated people who just want to make a better place, coming together with other people and working together towards a common goal and overcoming the obstacles and the criticism and all the negativity together, so this represents all of that together in one motion, and I just think that’s fantastic.”

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa .

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Emily Rolfson (left) and Meta Mandich, two Brainerd moms, talk excitedly Tuesday, May 12, about the splash pad that will soon be constructed at Memorial Park in northeast Brainerd. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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