• 12Jun

    Today I will propose a change to how the City of Rochester oversees $7 million dollars in support for outside agencies. I am frustrated with the status quo and am pursuing corrective action.

    The memo that I prepared for the council can be found here.

    Recent events have shown a persistent weakness in our oversight of public funds. This proposal would create professional oversight and decrease the influence of political connections in the allocation of public funds. I view this as a needed step to restore public faith in our management public funds going to partner organizations. While not every organizations has had issues, every taxpayer dollar deserves meaningful public oversight.

    Here is the approximate amount of taxpayer funds being issued to outside organizations in 2017.

     photo 2017 City Outside Contributions_zps10d0huev.jpg

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  • 16Aug

    Sigh…

    I am a believer in good government and am just ashamed of how this project has progressed. I frankly am ashamed of the performance of Parks department staff on this project.  The issues here mostly stem from poor decision making coming from the Parks department. The poorest decision was to design a facility addition that was far too big for the budget (without being directed to do so). Read more…

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  • 21Apr

    The council was recently asked to add another $1 million in budget funds to the Recreation Center Project. In the process the real costs of the project were presented in a very misleading fashion. The state set a $20 Million dollar budget for us. The project is now stands at nearly $28 million. Here is an honest account of the funds.

    Sales Tax $20.000 sales tax
    Sales Tax + $2.300 sales tax
    Pool $1.070 sales tax
    Pool -$1.070 sales tax
    General Fund $0.995 property tax
    GESP $1.800 internal funding
    Swimmers $0.400 private
    Hockey $0.060 private
    Seniors $2.300 private

    I was not willing to give the additional nearly $1 million in general tax resources. That would endanger our AAA rating and take funds that are used for police, fire, parks, road maintenance, library, and other needed services.

    Instead I am proposing that the city come up with the $1 million by a different means. We expect the Senior Center to donate two downtown parking lots to the project. This is worth about $600k. The remaining difference can be made up by user fees, loans to user groups, or city contingency.

    I am also going to ask for quarterly capital campaign reports from the Senior Center. If the Senior Center is financially unable to meet their obligations the council will reconsider tenant space. I requested Senior Center financial information and did not receive it prior to being asked to give $1 million.

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  • 12Dec

    Here is a prelim look at energy options for the Recreation Center.  I raised a pretty big stink about this and am glad to see some work being done.  There are still some issues to resolve, especially discrepancies to state data and an evaluation of solar thermal.

    Prelim Energy Study

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  • 18Mar
    1. Senior Center passes with modifications including required energy plan
    2. Demolition of historic properties along Broadway approved
    3. Council tells administration “no” to anti-speech policy

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  • 17Mar

    CUDE comments on Senior Center / Recreation Center.

    March 13, 2014

    Honorable Mayor and City Council

    City of Rochester

    200 Fourth Street SE

    Rochester, MN 55904

     

    Re:  Senior Citizen Center and Recreation Center Expansion

     

    Dear Mayor Brede and City Council,

     

    The Committee on Urban Design and Environment (CUDE) appreciates the opportunity to provide input and feedback on the plans for the proposed Senior Citizen Center Addition and Recreation Center Renovation and Expansion. We also appreciate the additional time that the Council has granted to allow key group and community members the opportunity to voice opinions on usage of their tax dollars.  The designer presented plans at our February meeting.

     

    CUDE recognizes the need for additional space for programming for older adult services as the population of our community is “graying”.  CUDE understands that the current facility restricts growth and prohibits certain types of programming.

     

    Some highlights of the proposed project that CUDE supports include:

    § The need for additional and modern facilities to meet the needs of today’s older adults.

    § A nationally recognized consultant assisted in the design and programming.  However, an actual needs

    assessment or future goals for programming were never presented.

    § The connection to fitness facilities promotes health and wellness in older adults.

    • Elton Hills Drive road “diet” and access management between Broadway and Zumbro River.  (Proposed by City of Rochester Public Works Department as a future project.)
    • Better streetscape for the east side of the recreation center.

     

    CUDE has the following concerns regarding the project:

    1. The site reduces parking spaces.  CUDE normally encourages minimized parking.  However, the recreation center site currently lacks parking, especially during Ice Hawk games and other swimming and ice events.  The new Senior Center and Recreation Center addition will further reduce parking and place further strain on adjacent businesses.  The proponent and designer did not have a solution to the future parking crunch.  One possible, but not explored solution suggested by the designer, was to utilize the Kellogg Middle School parking lot.  This would require users of the senior center and recreation center to walk a considerable grade and cross 5 lanes of Broadway, which does not have an area of refuge.

     

    1. Access to public transportation.  Proponents of the project and Public Works have proposed a change to southbound Route #1 to drive onto the site and drop off passengers at the main entrance to the senior center which is located on the northwest side of the facility.  If a northbound rider wanted to be dropped off at the senior center, they would have to cross 5 lanes of Broadway, without an area of refuge and travel an additional 100+ yards to access an ancillary entrance to the senior center.  This route also has considerable grade concerns.  CUDE would like to see public transportation options along Elton Hills Drive and a better facility entrance to the Senior Center on Elton Hills Drive.

     

    1. Lack of emphasis on utilizing outdoors and city recreational trails.  CUDE would like to see a stronger promotion of the river, city recreational trails and outside seating and programming.  The proposed senior center does not take advantage of a natural resource that the site holds due to the location.  Access to the trails and river is by traveling a narrow sidewalk along the north side of the building, through a parking lot and across a driveway to the north parking lot for the entire complex.  The building position on the site itself does not take full advantage of the river and natural landscape views.  Additionally, the site and building does not have outdoor programming.  CUDE would like to see garden spaces and building patios for older adults to enjoy.  Research shows that a majority of older adults in the northern states have a Vitamin D deficiency which has many effects, including, in severe cases, decreased brain cognition, and increased risk of falls.

     

    1. Autocentric/Future older adults and Demographics.  The current Senior Center is located downtown with access to more transportation routes and is walkable to the high concentration of senior housing located in the downtown core.  Also, the number of seniors downtown in the future is expected to grow in number–and these people may not have cars.  The current site does lack parking, but will future older adults drive automobiles as they age in place in their own homes?  Will future older adults have the financial means to own an automobile?  The proposed site is more dependent upon the automobile due to location and lack of transportation options.

     

    1. Highest and best use of land/future expansion.  CUDE is concerned that the proposed senior center does not utilize the current site to the highest and best use possible.  With the need for increased ice sheets, pool lanes and recreation opportunities for the general community, does the proposed Senior Center limit future expansion of the city’s only Recreation Center?  Also, is the proposed Senior Center built with vertical and horizontal expansion in mind?  Does this project hinder the goals of the Recreation Center site master plan?  CUDE had an understanding that a master plan of the recreation center property.

     

    1. Service drive and loading dock location.  CUDE requests that the current loading dock and service drive be relocated away from Elton Hills Drive.  The additional driveway along Elton Hills creates an additional auto/pedestrian conflict to gain access to the senior center, particularly for northbound Route #1 users.  If this is not possible, provide better masking of the loading dock through landscaping and architectural features.

     

    1. Facility relationship with Elton Hills Drive.  The Senior Center should have a better relationship with Elton Hills Drive by creating an improved entrance and access to Elton Hills Drive.  CUDE encourages the proposed changes to Elton Hills Drive (i.e. road “diet”) as proposed by Public Works.  CUDE would like to see Elton Hills change from a suburban arterial to an urban street.  The facility itself should incorporate architectural features that utilize urban design concepts of windows, pedestrian scale design and reduced setbacks.  Together, this would promote activity between the Senior Center and the new senior housing development along the Zumbro River, create access to the businesses and health care facilities across Elton Hills Drive.

     

    Along with the above suggestions, exterior elevations and landscape plans were not available for review at our February meeting.  CUDE would like to request to formally review exterior elevations and landscape plans, give community members more time to provide feedback on a 50 year facility complex before the plan is finalized and the Council gives approval.

     

    Thank you again for the opportunity to provide input on this project. We look forward to seeing increased space and opportunities for older adults in our community.

     

    Respectfully submitted,

     

    Brian S. Smidt

    Chair, CUDE

     

     

     

     

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  • 17Mar

    Letter from the chair of the Energy Commission regarding the Recreation Center / Senior Center

    February 17, 2014

    Honorable Mayor and Rochester Common Council

    Rochester City Hall

    201 Fourth Street SE

    Rochester, MN 55904

     

    Dear Mayor and Council,

    The Rochester Energy Commission wishes to acknowledge and thank the staff of TSP Architects for their presentation on the Recreation / Senior Center Project. Their brief talk and PowerPoint show at our February 11th meeting, provided us with our first view of the effort.

    The Commission was pleased to see the commitment of the designers to an energy-efficient facility and their willingness to work with us.  They emphasized that they are too early in the process to discuss specifics on energy loads, but that these numbers will be available and provided in a future presentation.  Somewhat troubling was their comment that energy saving-related items were removed due to past budget cuts and were not included in the request for additional funds.

    Time did not permit asking if planning included the benefits of such important issues as:

    • treating the complex as a whole, rather than as separate buildings thus permitting the movement and use of rather than waste of valuable reservoirs of temperature differences,
    • orienting the front of the building to the south to take advantage of natural lighting and to enhance public and private transit access,
    • incorporating the possible use of renewable energy sources such as geothermal, solar water and air heating and making the building “solar-ready” for future electricity production.

    In keeping with Ordinance 19A, the Energy Commission urges all cost-effective steps should be taken to minimize greenhouse gas emissions from this project.  Since such efforts also reduce energy use, these investments will pay for themselves multiple times over the life the building.

    We therefore strongly recommend taking the long-term view as budget decisions are being made.  Ensuring lower long-term operating and maintenance costs will provide real measurable benefits and savings to Rochester’s current and future residents.

    Sincerely,

    Edward Cohen, Chair

    Rochester Energy Commission

    cc:  Dale McCamish

    Recreation Center City Project Manager

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  • 17Mar

    I have raised a number of issues and offered a number of solutions regarding the proposed community center improvements.  Many of the points I am willing to compromise on, some are just too important to the future of the community to ignore.  For the project to get my blessing these points must be addressed.

    1. The energy pig must be slaughtered – In staff’s own words and in B3 data the current facility wastes energy.  The cost of doing nothing amounts to $6.5 million in todays dollars just thrown away by my estimate.  After pressing staff they acknowledged that we could fund energy improvements outside of the $20 million and pay our selves back with the energy savings.  This MUST be done, the new facility must at least meet the B3 standard.
    2. The future must not be sacrificed – The site plan should allow for future urban uses, especially on the Broadway side of the site.  I suggested 1 way that could accomplish this, I am sure that there are many, the bottom line is that the future corner of Broadway and Elton Hills Dr. should not be surface parking.
    3. Safe transit orientation is a must – any drop off that requires internal circulation is short sited at best.  Walkways to the north of buildings are treacherous for seniors.  By simply aligning the building adjacent to the street, easy convenient access is achieved.
    4. Citizen input must be addressed – despite a promise to involve CUDE throughout the process, CUDE and the Energy Commission never saw the plans until the council forced staff to do so.  Now that those bodies have raised concerns, they should be addressed.

    I continue to be troubled by the fact that staff made a number of commitments to the community and failed to follow through.  If these 4 items can be addressed I would be comfortable on compromising on other issues and moving the project forward.

     

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  • 16Mar

    When Rochester Parks Staff wanted my to support moving the Recreation Center project forward last July this is what they promised the community.

    1. Land and money are limited. I understand and respect this challenge.
    2. Walkable as possible all around, potential for heated / covered sidewalks.
    3. Work with transit to maximize number of busses.  Try for front door access.  Traffic study.  Site parking circulation study.
    4. Involve the CUDE committee throughout the process.
    5. Energy efficiency, work with RPU, solar, geothermal, waste energy.  Hot side and cold side do not work together.
    6. Improve building appearance from broadway / Elton Hills Dr.
    Prior to this meeting back in May staff had also promised:
    1. 1 plan showing an urban transit oriented use of planned uses.
    2. A second plan showing what was possible on the site in the future.

    Here is how staff described the current Recreation Center last July.

    Especially, the existing recreation center is not very efficient at all.

    I was frustrated with the first pass of the building because staff ignored July items 2-5 and did a mediocre job on 6.  Staff also has yet to deliver the items from May.  I hope what we see on March 17, 2014 is better.

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  • 06Mar

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