Albert Lea facilities referendum passes 3 to 1

Published 9:18 pm Tuesday, April 9, 2024

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Albert Lea voters spoke loud and clear Tuesday in favor of the city borrowing up to $9.8 million to improve the City Arena, Marion Ross theater, Aquatic Center and Splash Pad.

According to unofficial results, 75.5% of voters — or 1,849 people — voted “yes,” while 600, or 24.4%, voted “no.”

“We look forward to working with our community on making the most of this investment,” said Albert Lea Mayor Rich Murray after hearing the results. “Thank you for supporting our current and future generations.”

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Cathy Malakowsky, director of community engagement and enrichment, echoed Murray’s remarks.

“We are thrilled with the results,” Malakowsky said. “We were optimistic, but to have over 75% support the proposal exceeded our expectations. We know that economics are tough for a lot of our residents so we appreciate their commitment to keep these facilities going.”

According to the city, the vast majority of the money that the city plans to bond for — $7.54 million — is to maintain the second sheet of ice at the arena, make related repairs, install energy-saving projects and expand the lobby. The refrigeration system for the practice rink is failing after 26 years of use, and officials would like to install a new system that would serve both sheets of ice, use less energy and be more eco-friendly.

Federal funding of $2.45 million is available for the new refrigeration system, including a new practice rink floor, and the energy-savings projects at the arena, pool and theater.

Todd Ulve, president of the Albert Lea Hockey Association, called the vote “a great step in the right direction.”

“We’re excited for the future,” he said. The association has committed to fundraising $250,000 for the project.

The theater projects total $360,000, half of that for new front windows and doors. The doors would meet federal requirements for access for people with disabilities. The rest would go toward heating, cooling, LED lighting and ventilation systems.

At the pool, the city needs to replace water-heating, lighting and electrical systems in use for 25 years, along with the play features in the kiddie pool. These projects total $580,000. For an additional $570,000, the city will move the entrance to the Aquatic Center so patrons can choose which changing room to use upon entry: the men’s locker room, women’s locker room or the freestanding bathhouse which is family-friendly and gender-neutral with private changing stalls. The remodeling will also expand the concessions prep area from 132 to 300 square feet and add a walk-up food service window for the public outside the pool.

At the splash pad, the city plans to build public restrooms to serve the downtown and Blue Zones Walkway around Fountain Lake. The restrooms are expected to cost $250,000 and include enclosed storage for the city and Farmers Market held in the adjacent North Broadway parking lot.

The city previously stated the cost to individual taxpayers would depend on their property values. For a home valued at $100,000, the additional cost would be $47.50 per year or less than $4 per month.

Malakowsky said now that the city has the approval of the voters, it will next move forward with a test to see how deep the frost is under the Colstrup Arena. Once they know that, then they will figure out how to remove that frost. Also this season, they might be able to fix the drainage at the arena. Both of those things need to be done before the new floor is put in. There will also be a 60-week wait for some of the refrigeration equipment.

She said she is excited about planning the lobby expansion at the arena, in making it both functional and attractive for users.

The council will also vote on bids for the pool and theater, as well as order supplies for those sites. For the splashpad restrooms, the city will form a new team with the parks department to work on finalizing plans. She said she has received many questions tied to the restrooms and how they will be used.

They also plan to continue to seek input from the public.

“We thank all the voters who made the time to go out today or voted absentee,” Malakowsky said.

She thanked the hockey association, the Albert Lea Figure Skating Club, the Kennel Club and Albert Lea Community Theatre, who helped get the word out about the vote.

According to the results,  24.49% of registered voters participated in the election, with the highest turnout coming from the 1st Ward with 37.65%, followed next by Ward 2 with 26.02%.



Ward 1

Yes: 644

No: 146


Ward 2

Yes: 341

No: 78


Ward 3

Yes: 322

No: 125


Ward 4

Yes: 297

No: 115


Ward 5

Yes: 109

No: 59


Ward 6

Yes: 136

No: 77



Yes: 1,849

No: 600

Total votes cast: 2,449