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Broadway project off to a bumpy start

Alexandria’s Broadway reconstruction project from 3rd to 8th Avenue is off to a bumpy start.

But despite split votes and higher than expected costs, it’s moving ahead.

At its meeting Monday night, the Alexandria City Council voted 3-2 to approve a cooperative agreement with the Minnesota Department of Transportation and called for bids on the project.

The estimated total cost of the project has increased from $4.5 million last July to more than $6.43 million, according to the latest figures presented Monday.

Since this is a state highway project, MnDOT will cover most of the costs -- $2.79 million and another $2 million in state aid funds.

The city’s share is expected to be about $620,000, Alexandria Light and Power will contribute $622,406 for the waterline work, and Alexandria Lakes Area Sanitary District will provide $397,306.

City Engineer Tim Schoonhoven explained that changes in the scope of the project increased the cost, including the pavement design cross-section, traffic signal system and control, storm sewer system and water distribution.

He gave an example: The signal system will be the most advanced one in Alexandria, featuring flashing yellow left-turn signals; a computerized interconnecting system that can be instantly changed to accommodate emergency vehicles; and an accessible pedestrian signal system with push buttons, countdown timers and voice messages.

The council did get some good news: The overall cost of the side-street portion of the project was reduced, from $743,383 to $505,711, mainly because of water line changes.

The increase in construction costs will be paid for by those requesting the changes, Schoonhoven said.

Council members Todd Jensen and Virgil Batesole voted against the MnDOT agreement, calling for bids and the engineering contract. They opposed the design of the project which will narrow some of Broadway's lanes. Jensen said that although the project included crucial work that was needed, such as replacing aging underground infrastructure, he didn't support other parts of the project enough to vote for it. He said too much emphasis was placed on beautifying Broadway instead of making it easier to get to businesses.

Batesole said he supported "more than 90 percent" of the project but didn't like the design that calls to make the west side of the sidewalk seven feet wider than the east side. He said that extra footage should have been used to widen the street. He also objected to the pedestrian bump-outs at intersections, which he believes will make it much more difficult for vehicles to make right turns.

Batesole also disliked the rising costs of the project. He said that even if the state is paying for most of it, it still affects the sales tax, income taxes and gas tax.

Council member Roger Thalman said that the state would spend the money in another city if Alexandria voted the project down. He said that the cooperative agreement with MnDOT will save local taxpayers millions of dollars. He added that for the design work, he trusted the city's engineering experts instead of someone saying "this doesn't look right."

Council member Owen Miller said that replacing the infrastructure was a neccessity. He said that the MnDOT agreement offered an affordable way to do it. If the 65 parcels of land along Broadway were assessed the cost, it would amount to $95,000 per parcel, Miller said.

On the same 3-2 vote, the council approved an agreement with Widseth Smith and Nolting to provide the engineering for the reconstruction and side street work. It amounts to just over $1 million.

The next big step in the project is opening bids on March 28. If bids are approved, the project is expected to begin May 12 and be completed by October 17.

In other action, the council:

--Joined the Alexandria Fire Department in honoring 11-year-old Tearza Repp, who acted quickly in alerting her family after she heard a smoke alarm at 12:30 a.m. on February 9. The family was able to get out of the home near Lake Mina without serious injuries. The house was destroyed by fire. Alexandria Fire Chief Jeff Karrow said that she may have saved some lives that night. He added that the smoke detectors were working and Tearza did everything right by acting quickly and not going back into the burning house.  

--Called for a “needs assessment” of the Runestone Community Center to see if it should be expanded to include a third sheet of ice. Staff was also authorized to prepare a request for proposals (RFP). Although these initial steps won’t have any financial impact on the city, moving ahead with issuing an RFP and choosing a consultant would cost money, noted City Administrator Marty Schultz. Groups that use the RCC say there's a big need for more ice time. This includes the Alexandria Area Hockey Association (AAHA), the Alexandria Figure Skating Club and the Vikingland Curling Club. The AAHA projects a 33 percent growth over the next five years and said that if no additional ice time is made available, it would be impossible for it to hold hockey tournaments during the regular season. As a result, the community would lose 750 booked hotel rooms and 2,300 visitors per season.

--Took no action on a proposed resolution from the League of Minnesota Cities that would allow cities to publish public notices on their own web sites instead of in newspapers. The Douglas County Board approved a similar resolution affecting counties on a 3-2 vote. A hearing on the issue is scheduled to take place at the Minnesota Legislature is set for this Wednesday. Jensen said the council wasn't given enough time to consider the resolution. Batesole said he would support a resolution that would support keeping public notices in the newspaper. He said many residents don't have computer access and like reading the notices in the newspaper.

--Accepted the annual fire department report from Fire Chief Jeff Karrow. The department responded to 205 calls last year, which is down slightly from 2012’s 219 calls but up from the 199 and 197 calls in 2010 and 2011. Fires caused just over $1 million in damage last year but it could have been worse. Firefighters saved about $2.1 million worth of property from being destroyed. Out of the department’s 30 volunteer firefighters, an average of 25 responded to each call.

--Accepted the annual report from Fire Marshal Dennis Stark. He logged another busy year with fire prevention/public education efforts; code enforcement; investigations, fire chief and department requests; hydrant flows; public relations and continuing education.

--Accepted the annual building report from Lynn Timm. She highlighted the five biggest projects of 2013 -- Arabella Manor, ForceAmerica, Housing and Redevelopment Authority townhomes, 3M's plant addition and St. Cloud Overhead Door's new retail office. Residential building is up in the city, Timm said. "I think we're on the right track again," she said.

--Called for a public hearing to adopt a street improvement plan and discuss issuing general obligation street reconstruction bonds for two projects this year. The first is the city’s portion of the annual local street overlays and the second is the Victoria Heights reclamation project. The city is considering issuing bonds for the projects and combining them with the phase four, part two waterline expansion project. The public hearing is set for March 24 at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall. Because this is reclamation street project, issuing bonds would require a four-fifths vote from the council. The process also allows for a reverse referendum if 5 percent of the voters object to the bonding plan.

--Was informed that Andrew Mellgan has accepted the position of the city liquor store manager, taking over for long-time manager Carol Lanigan, who retired.

--Issued a seasonal on-sale and Sunday liquor license to Clubhouse Bistro at the Alexandria Golf Club.

--Proclaimed February 23 to March 1 Random Acts of Kindness Week at the request of the Alexandria Kiwanis Club. The week promotes and recognizes small acts of kindness. Local service clubs, churches and other community organizations are encouraged to participate. Students will draw posters depicting kind acts.

--Tabled taking action on a special event permit for Ribfest, as requested by a new local, non-profit group, "Awake the Lakes." The council asked the organization to add the city to its insurance coverage of the event and to provide more details about the city's involvement for facilities and security. The event will not be held on Memorial weekend as it has in the past. Organizers are hoping for better weather by scheduling it on June 28, the same weekend as the Vikingland Band Festival. It will once again take place on 2ndAvenue and Big Ole Central Park. Proceeds will be donated to a different charity every year. This year, it will help Habitat for Humanity. About 2,000 are expected to attend.

--Issued a special event permit for Theatre L’Homme Dieu’s Run for the Roses 5K on May 3. The race will start and end at the Big Ole Viking stature. About 150 people are expected to participate.

--Issued a special event permit for Someplace Safe’s second annual “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” walk that raises awareness of violence against women. It will take place at Big Ole Central Park on April 29. About 150 people are expected to attend.

--Tabled taking action on a special event permit to Lasting Imprint’s fifth annual Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Walk and 5K on September 6. The council asked organizers to approve the plans with the police department and to verify the insurance. The walk will start and end at City Park. About 300 people are expected to attend.

--Issued a special permit event for the 2014 Harvest Duathlon and Kids Duathlon on August 29-30, pending final approval from the police department. It will take place at Discovery Middle School. The adult event is a 2.5 mile run, a 14.75 mile bike race and a 2.3 mile run. The kids’ event will be a run on a dirt track and a bicycle loop around the school. About 450 are expected to attend the events.

--Appointed the city administrator and the city attorney as advisory members of the Alexandria Charter Commission. Batesole voted against the appointments. He said the commission should decide who it wants as its attorney.

--Approved a subdivision application from Steve and Judy Soderholm for Rosewood Hills. This will allow them to create conveyable parcels of land on their 74-acre property along Rosewood Lane and County Road 46/McKay Avenue and 10th Avenue, near Woodland Elementary School.

--Approved a final plat for The Pines, Second Addition, which was originally platted in 2006. This will allow lots to be slightly re-aligned. The Pines is located near White Spruce Lane and Karnis Drive.

--Gave prelimiary approval to vacate a platted but unbuilt alley between Broadway and Hawthorne Streets, north of 3rd Avenue. There are no buildings remaining on the block; the Lake Region Co-op building was the last one removed. ORB Management requested the 16-foot wide alley to be vacated.

Al Edenloff
Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  
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