Park Board delays hard surface for Soldiers Field track

April 5, 2019

Plans to pave Soldiers Memorial Field Park’s track and nearby parking lot have been put on hold.

The Rochester Park Board sought to delay work in response to concerns voiced Tuesday.

“I represent hundreds of Rochester children who have used that track for years,” said Gwen Jacobson, a member of the Rochester Track Club, who has organized Hal Martin All-Comers’ Track Meets at the site.

Jacobson and other club members said the existing cinder track is ideal for young competitors, and an asphalt option wouldn’t be welcoming.

“We’re running kids 2 and under,” Jerry Goodrich said. “Those kids tend to wobble a lot; they might fall down on the track. If they fall down, they basically start crying, but the mom brushes the cinders off them, and in two or three minutes all is good.”

Plans adopted in a 2014 master plan for the park call for paving the track, but the effort has been delayed due to a lack of funds. The Rochester City Council recently earmarked $850,000 for the track and parking lot projects, which are being done together to reduce overall costs.

Several residents attending Tuesday’s Park Board meeting said the council’s March 18 decision made them aware paving the cider track was an option.

“Until recently, in fact two weeks ago, I had no idea such a thing was even being considered,” Kevin Lund told the board.

Lund said he sees the plan as part of a continued effort to sacrifice the park’s historic use as a multi-recreational attraction for local youths.

Mike Nigbur, Rochester’s park and forestry division head, said the proposed hard surface is part of an effort to create festival space in the park, as outlined in the master plan.

The effort has gained extra urgency in recent years after rain interfered with the track’s use for the annual RochesterFest celebration and other events.

“RochesterFest was one voice in saying we need to make an improvement down here; it wasn’t the only voice,” Nigbur said, noting he’s heard complaints from groups hosting running events, as well as festivals, after rain soaked the track on multiple occasions.

With that in mind, Nigbur said city staff sought a schedule to complete the project for this year’s RochesterFest event, which starts June 22.

A request for bids on the project was posted within days of the council’s approval of the funds with plans to select a contractor later this month, but the Park Board voted Tuesday to hold off and seek potential alternatives.

“Once it’s asphalted, it’s going to be hard to undo,” Board Member Vickie Anderson said, noting she had hoped the track would receive a more runner-friendly surface.

Nigbur said he’ll squash the request with plans to revisit options in June.

Until then, he asked members of the Rochester Track Club to suggest alternatives for the track, after noting a rubberized surface would likely be too costly and other options could interfere with plans to use the track for ice skating during the winter.

Club members said they would conduct the needed research.

Park Board Member Chad Ramaker said it’s unlikely an option will be found to meet all expectations but said time should be taken to determine the best approach.

“I’d rather make the right decision in the fall, rather than the wrong decision in the spring,” he said.