Board chooses asphalt for Soldiers Field track

May 9, 2019

Rochesterfest vendors will likely be circling a cinder track for the last time this summer.

Plans to cover the Soldiers Memorial Field Park track with asphalt were approved Tuesday by the Rochester Park Board.

“I think we made a good decision, and I say we move forward with it,” Park Board member Linnea Archer said, referring to the park’s master plan, which calls for changes to expand opportunities and festivals at the site.

The board was slated to approve paving the track last month after the Rochester City Council approved $850,000 for the project, which will also include paving the nearby parking lot.

However, members of the Rochester Track Club and others raised concerns about using asphalt on the public track that also hosts young runners during the Hal Martin All-Comers’ Track Meets throughout the summer. The club requested time to research alternatives to pavement.

On Tuesday, the group pitched using beam clay, a crushed natural material that would be similar to the track’s existing cinders but provide improved drainage.

Mike Nigbur, Rochester’s park and forestry division head, said the material would add at least $50,000 to the project, while raising questions regarding maintenance and whether it would be sufficient when the space is used for festivals.

Rochester resident Kevin Lund said his research indicates the material would be sufficient for current festival uses while offering a better option for runners. He questioned whether previous investments in electrical and water service to the site were driving the asphalt decision.

“As far as I can ascertain, these upgrades were financed and implemented — thank God — to assist Rochesterfest in the wonderful location,” he said, but noted the city isn’t obligated to make further changes by paving the track.

While Rochesterfest has the longest history of using the site, moving to the park in 2015, the event’s director, Brent Ackerman, noted the Park Board’s desire to attract festivals to the park predates the need for a new Rochesterfest location

“We had heard about the desire by the (Park) Board to activate Soldiers Field, and we were intrigued,” he said of the decision to move the annual event to the park in 2015.

Ackerman and Nigbur noted other events have taken place at the park in recent years, but wet conditions and other factors have hampered continued use. Nigbur said the goal to attract more events to the site remains.

Park Board member Chad Ramaker said that goal is what drove him to support the asphalt option.

“As a citizen, I would like to see it as an event space,” he said.

At the same time, he suggested that the Parks and Recreation Department should consider looking for a location to create an updated running track that would be open for public use.

While Nigbur suggested it could be incorporated into plans at Gamehaven Park in southeast Rochester, Ramaker said he was thinking of something closer to the center of the city.

“I would prefer it as part of the Silver Lake Master Plan, which still needs to happen,” he said.

Other board members echoed the desire to look for a new track option, but Board President Vern Yetzer warned that funding isn’t available at this point.

“We didn’t have money to do even this until about six weeks ago,” he said of the Soldiers Field paving project.

With the Park Board decision to move forward on the asphalt surface, Nigbur said a call for potential contractors will be prepared by June, with plans to have the work done in the fall.