Voters to decide future of Albert Lea facilities

Published 3:52 pm Friday, April 5, 2024

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Albert Lea voters will decide Tuesday whether to approve the city borrowing up to $9.8 million to improve the City Arena, Marion Ross theater, Aquatic Center and Splash Pad.

The city would pay off the bonds over 20 years.

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.

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“The city has taken excellent care of its facilities, making equipment last 25 years or more. But we’re at the point where we need to invest in new equipment and improvements to continue Albert Lea’s strong legacy of recreation for all ages. These facilities help support our high quality of life, from ice sports to summer fun to live theater to downtown festivities, ” said Cathy Malakowsky, engagement/enrichment director.

The vast majority of the proposal — $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. The city 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.

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 for this historic building.

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 would move the entrance to the Aquatic Center so patrons could 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 would 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 would build public restrooms to serve the downtown and Blue Zones Walkway around Fountain Lake. The restrooms would cost $250,000 and include enclosed storage for the city and Farmers Market held in the adjacent North Broadway parking lot. More than 100,000 people visited Albert Lea’s historic downtown in 2023 for shopping, dining, free summer concerts and 50 other events throughout the year in addition to the Farmers Market.

The Albert Lea Hockey Association, Figure Skating Club and Community Theater have all pledged to help pay for some of the projects.

If voters approve the referendum on April 9, then some projects would start this year with the bulk of the work being done in 2025.