A brighter future for Folwell Park?


I live adjacent to Folwell Park. Folks come to the park to play basketball, walk the dog, jog, take the kids to the playground and paddling pool. Soccer, football and baseball are played in season. The recreation center hosts classes, community meetings, youth events. And some people come to simply stroll along the paths or sit on a bench.

But what you cannot do in Folwell Park is play tennis. Not because Folwell doesn’t have tennis courts (it has four), but because the tennis courts have been neglected to the point that they are deemed unusable. Indeed unsafe.

And for many months a year, a perennial drainage issue renders one of the primary paths leading down to the recreation center literally unusable. The water rises in the cooler weather creating a vile and stinking pond that stretches over the path, absorbing the nearby bench.

In the spring, children play bare-footed in the ‘pond’ amongst trash that includes cans and glass. Parents with push chairs, bike riders, and the disabled cannot use this path when it is flooded. Your choices are to walk around the pond. Or through it. Earlier this year a number of Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) vehicles, one-by-one, got stuck in the mire. They had to bring in a bulldozer to get themselves extricated.

The pond was created when the MPRB was required to close the storm drain catch basin because it is against Minnesota State law to discharge storm water into the sanitary sewer (when the drain was originally installed it was not illegal). Following the closure, no provisions were made to properly drain the area. The drain was closed off over seven years ago.

Perception is everything.  So I arranged to meet with Adam Arvidson, Director of Strategic Planning for MPRB, to show him the unusable and unsafe tennis courts and the area where the pond is already beginning to rise.

But first some background information on how MPRB is addressing improving and maintaining our parks.

There is more than one plan

* The 20-Year Neighborhood Park Plan (NPP20) is a new funding agreement between the MPRB and the City of Minneapolis.  This historic long-term initiative is designed to transform Minneapolis’ neighborhood park system.

* The North Service Area Master Plan (NSAMP) is a project to create new master plans for all the Northside parks, to create a vision for the park than can be implemented over time.  By planning first, with extensive community engagement, MPRB hopes to implement what the community actually wants. They are nearing completion of the “phase one” engagement, which has been mainly about asking people what they want to see in the parks, and what works and doesn’t in each park.

* MPRB’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) determines capital investments through MPRB’s annual budgeting process. Per Superintendent Jayne Miller, “With the recommended 2018 Budget, the MPRB is the first and only park agency in the country to require, by ordinance, its entire Capital Improvement Program use specific, transparent, data-driven measures to ensure racial and economic equity are accounted for in funding allocations.”

What does this mean for Folwell Park?

* NPP20 – Arvidson acknowledged that Folwell has facilities that are in poor condition, but added that this is true of many parks. The condition of the tennis courts appears to be the result of “deferred maintenance … regular upkeep delayed past the point of repair.” (A reference taken from the NPP20 2017 Annual Report.)

* NSAMP – MPRB has attended several events at Folwell and also worked with neighborhood groups, community stakeholders and recreation center staff. They will later this year be hosting a series of community workshops to discuss some initial designs for each park. While these are not yet scheduled, they will be a key opportunity to discuss Folwell’s needs and how to address them through design of the park.

* CIP – Folwell Park has 2017 funding for a playground replacement (a total of $346,042, which is a combination of funding types). MPRB has held that project until completion of the NSAMP, to ensure the playground location and type is what people want. MPRB expects that project will initiate in 2018. In the initial discussions with the Board of Commissioners in developing the 2018 CIP, the commissioners have directed MPRB to allocate additional funds to Folwell from NPP20 (Folwell’s “equity rank” is #19 of 104 parks ranked). According to Arvidson, a draft budget “will likely include an additional allocation for Folwell.”

The tennis courts

The state of repair of the Folwell tennis courts is well known to MPRB. A condition we apparently share with a number of Minneapolis parks. According to Arvidson, how much a tennis court is used, and therefore how high it may rank on the potential funding spectrum, can be hard to determine. Whereas determining actual usage of athletic fields is pretty straightforward.

The good news is that parks with multiple courts, such as Folwell, are more in demand because they can accommodate lesson programs, use by schools, etc. And the better news is that the MPRB is hoping to make use of a Hennepin Youth Sports Program grant for Folwell. A grant application was submitted last year specifically to repair the Folwell courts, but the application was denied. This year Arvidson said the grant application, pending approval by the Board, will be broadly focused on athletics that could potentially incorporate repair of the tennis courts. The deadline for grant submissions is November 6, 2017. County Commissioner Linda Higgins has said in an email that she would be willing to advocate for repair of the Folwell courts should a grant application be submitted by MPRB.

The pond

Arvidson said the pond would likely be classified as a “rehabilitation” issue because it fell into the below-grade infrastructure category. However, the 2018 NPP20 budget posted to MPRB’s website does not show any reference to correction of drainage issues in Folwell. It is therefore going to be up to concerned residents and Folwell Park users to insist that the MPRB address this problem. An issue that impacts equal access, aesthetics and also health. Testing the water in the spring for the presence of harmful bacteria such as E. coli might be a place to start.

Be heard, stay informed

It is clear that the MPRB wants our input. They are providing opportunities to gather feedback from residents. Here are some ways to keep updated, ask questions and make yourself heard:

  • Adam Arvidson (Director of Strategic Planning for MPRB): aarvidson@minneapolisparks.org
  • Barbara Johnson (City Council, 4th Ward): johnson@minneapolismn.gov
  • Linda Higgins (Hennepin County Commissioner, District 2):higgins@hennepin.us
  • North Service Area Master Plan (subscribe to email updates, get invites to Community Advisory Committee meetings): org/park_care__improvements/park_projects/current_projects/north_service_area_master_plan/
  • MPRB budget/financial information (there are public comment opportunities scheduled in November and December for the 2018 budget): org/about_us/budget__financial/