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The shape of things to come

Big projects prioritized ahead of budget work

SOLON– Stinocher Street needs rebuilding, it’s time to construct the North Trunk sewer line, and that traffic signal at Highway 1 and Main Street has worked so well another one at 5th Street would be really nice.
At a special work session Dec. 14, Solon City Council members overhauled their Capital Improvements List (CIP) in advance of January budget sessions. The ranked list of pending projects for the city is reviewed annually, but given a comprehensive rewriting every five years, with the last major update in 2011.
“We’ve accomplished a lot of these,” City Administrator Cami Rasmussen reported at the Dec. 7 meeting, where last year’s list was handed out to council members. Most of the projects listed as priorities in 2011 have been completed, she said, including the construction of turn lanes on Highway 1, the purchase of land for a new city hall, the conversion of Main Street to angled parking and the complete lighting of the Solon Recreation and Nature Area (SRNA) parking lot.
Several projects on last year’s CIP are either completed or underway as well, including the new signal on Main Street, new shoulders for Highway 382 and a ground storage reservoir to expand the city’s water capacity.
“It’s our vision for the next five years,” Mayor Steve Stange said. “We sure have knocked a lot off over the last 10.”
Council members spent almost an hour discussing each of the 24 items on the CIP, which will change dramatically for 2017 as many of the top priorities dropped off the list entirely.
The 2016 CIP listed more Main Street parking, the purchase of property for an SRNA expansion, the heating of the Timber DOME Lodge, and curb and gutter for West Sovers Street in the top five, but all dropped in importance at the work session.
Parking is still a problem downtown, Stange told council members, but should the city be actively trying to provide more by purchasing property?
Council member Lynn Morris questioned whether the city is planning to convert the empty lot next door to Solon City Hall into a parking area.
Rasmussen explained the lot was for future use in the case of an expansion of the fire station, or even possibly City Hall.
The city may not need it for a fire department expansion, council member Steve Duncan said, and it may have a better use than parking.
“With the house that sits next door to it, it’s going to be attractive to developers to continue to develop Main Street,” Duncan said, suggesting the city should wait and possibly recoup its investment.
“I just don’t see that being a parking lot, I guess,” he added.
The SRNA expansion, likewise, saw little support from the current council.
“I just don’t think we’re there yet,” Stange said. “I think we have so many other priorities right now.”
“I agree, that’s what I was thinking,” said council member Mark Prentice.
The heating of the Timber DOME Lodge would provide the city with a year-round venue for recreation programs and public rental, but the cost-to-benefit ratio seemed to dampen enthusiasm among council members, especially in light of the school district’s decision to look for alternate uses for the current middle school building.
When council members questioned the $60,000 cost, Public Works Director Scott Kleppe explained the building cannot be insulated, so the city was looking to install geothermal to make the building as efficient as possible.
With no room for a furnace or ductwork, the heating would be installed into the floor, which would increase 2 1/2 inches in height as a result.
Stange questioned whether the city would be better off simply leasing space as needed.
“That facility’s in use late spring and early fall, and it’s pretty much in use all the way up to the end of October,” Kleppe said. “If we had heat would people utilize it more often?”
Rasmussen said she had reservations taking the heating project off the list entirely, and Kleppe noted two public reservations a month would theoretically cover utility costs.

The remaining top priority, the reconstruction of 5th Street west of Highway 1, will piggyback with the development of the Prairie Acres subdivision when Marie Court and David Drive are extended. David Drive will empty out onto 5th Street, creating a new access.
When that occurs, the city will rebuild 5th Street, adding curb and gutter.
Council members agreed to keep the project in the one-to-five year highest-priority ranking.
Another portion of 5th Street, west of Highway 1, may also require some attention as the Solon Community School District proceeds with plans for a fourth attendance center.
The new intermediate elementary would have its main entrance on 5th Street in an area between Eastwood Drive and Iowa Street, where there currently is no curb and gutter, and a fairly narrow roadway.
Kleppe suggested the city request a traffic study to see if additional turn lanes would be warranted for the school driveway.
Council members agreed to keep the project ranked highly.

Also staying high on the list was the rebuilding of Stinocher Street from 5th Street to 8th Street.
“Okay, Scott,” Stange said to Kleppe. “Get on your soapbox.”
Along with Highway 1, Main Street and 5th Street, Stinocher is one of the most heavily-traveled of the city’s streets, Kleppe said.
Stinocher handles a lot of construction and other heavy equipment traffic, and has drainage and dust issues, he added.
But the price tag is high, likely at $1 million or more, leading Stange to ask about financing.
“It would be a pretty massive project,” Rasmussen admitted.
The city can apply for Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding for a sewer and storm drainage improvements and issue general obligation bonds to cover the concrete street, she said.
The city has local sales tax, tax increment finance district and road use funds which could be used to help repay the debt, she added, depending on the timeframe of the project.
Both Kleppe and Rasmussen noted the city could look at combining several street projects into one general obligation bond.

Another million dollar undertaking, the North Trunk sewer line, also stayed in the one-to-five year range.
“This is a no-brainer, we have to do this,” Stange said.
Kleppe noted, based on the city’s schedule, the sewer line project should currently be in the design process and preparing to bid the project out.
“I know, I know,” Stange said.
The North Trunk will be a buried sewer line, connected directly with the wastewater treatment center on the west side of town, replacing an elevated line serving the Windmill Estates subdivision. In 2014, the city was forced to install a lift station to serve as a temporary fix for a phase of the development lower than the elevated gravity pipe.
Rasmussen said the city has fallen behind on the project as the city engineer focused on work for the ground storage reservoir. The first step, she said, will be contacting potentially impacted property owners.

“It’s not getting done with donation money,” Stange said of another pricey item, the construction of a splash pad adjacent to the trail head for the Lake Macbride and Hoover Nature trails at the SRNA.
Stange suggested money set aside for heating Timber DOME Lodge might be better spent toward the splash pad, which carries a price tag of around $500,000.
Rasmussen agreed there would need to be a city contribution, indicating she was hopeful it could be used as matching funds in grant applications.
The overall project includes the splash pad area (an aquatic play area with no standing water, typically featuring nozzles spraying into the air) and an open shelter with restrooms.
The splash pad and shelter will be split into separate projects, Rasmussen said, with grants sought for each.
“I have a hard believing that it’s not going to get used,” Stange said, noting Lisbon’s wading pool is consistently packed.
“I’m having a hard time putting it in the one-to-five, personally,” Prentice said.
“I would say six to 10,” added Duncan.
Rasmussen cautioned council members against putting the project too far into the future, noting a committee is actively collecting donations.
But with the development of the new trail head, Morris pointed out, there will be a lot more activity in that corner of the park.
Duncan and Prentice agreed to budget a contribution, as long as it didn’t give the impression the city would fund the entire cost.