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Renovations for South Park

A four-phase $1.5 million renovation project is planned for the city’s oldest park.

“We’re interested in trying to accomplish the first phase,” City Administrator Henry Veleker said of the proposed project at South Park.

Phase 1 is the most expensive of the four phases and is estimated to cost $619,000.

That part of the project would include construction of a new shelter/bathroom facility, new playground equipment, picnic tables, waste and recycling bins, benches, utilities, lighting and a fishing pier on Shadow Lake, across from Bowersox Park.

South Park is the city’s oldest park. It was established in 1907 and was voted Waupaca’s No. 1 park in 2011.

Parks Superintendent Russ Montgomery said the park’s shelter is at least 40 years old, and the playground equipment was installed in 1988.

The shelter and the bathroom facilities are not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Special events, such as the July 4 celebration, the Rod & Classic Car Show and the Waupaca Area Triathlon, strain the park’s facilities.

When large groups use the park, the bathrooms experience frequent backups.

The city’s goal for the overall $1.5 million project is to raise $500,000 in private funds over a five-year period. The balance of the funding would come through $500,000 in grants and $500,000 from the city in the form of in-kind labor and materials, donated land, grant matches and cash as budgets allow.

For Phase 1, the city is seeking a $310,000 stewardship grant from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to cover half of the $619,000 cost of that phase.

The city proposes that other half of the cost will be covered by $200,000 in private funding and $109,000 from the city in in-kind labor and materials and donated land.

Archie Overby, president of First National Bank, is committed to raising the $200,000 in private funding over the course of two years.

The grant the city is seeking allows the city to include a donation of land within the city toward the local share requirement. The parcels being considered are owned by the Waupaca County Natural Resources Foundation and are located in the East Gateway area.

The land would be donated to the city at no cost.

The city will learn in September if it is successful in receiving the $310,000 grant.

If the city does receive the grant, Phase 1 will begin in 2013, and the city will have two years to complete it, Veleker said.

A discussion of future improvements for South Park first began in the summer of 2009.

From the city’s standpoint, its awareness of the need to update the park was first raised when the park became the site of the Waupaca Area Triathlon.

“Early on, one of the first years, there were electrical problems. The bathrooms backed up,” Veleker said. “The triathlon paid to get the electrical fixed. They always talked about it being a beautiful facility for the event.”

The park has a long history and attracts people from outside of the Waupaca area.

Montgomery noted that for each of the last three years, 24 percent of the shelter rentals were by people who live outside Waupaca’s zip code.

Over the years, there have been some updates at the park, including a new beach house.

“Through the years, at council retreats with capital planning, it was on the list to do something,” Veleker said.

That discussion fell by the wayside after the economic downturn that began in late 2008, he said.

The city then applied for a free technical assistance grant from the East Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission and received it.

About 20 different groups and individuals were invited to participate in the planning effort, and the South Park Master Plan was completed in late 2010.

Next, the city contracted with Rettler Corporation, of Stevens Point, for a financial analysis of the project’s cost.

The $3,600 cost of that study was paid for by donations from First National Bank, Farmers State Bank, Community First Credit Union, First State Bank and the Waupaca Area Triathlon.

Earlier this year, Veleker delivered the report to them.

When he visited First National Bank, Overby said, “What did you find?”

Veleker said Overby has always been a supporter of recreation in Waupaca, particularly projects that support youth.

“He basically committed to helping raise the money to make it happen,” Veleker said.

The timeline for the completion of the overall project is five years.

The other phases involve enhanced accessibility to the beach, new trail construction from Berlin Street, a footbridge over the channel that connects Mirror and Shadow lakes, shoreline restoration, improved access to the lakes for fishing from shore, improvements to the current boat ramp and construction of a look-out tower and small shelter at the park’s highest point.

Montgomery said people may donate funds for a specific aspect of the plan or for the overall project. A Friends of Waupaca Parks group is set to be established under the Waupaca County Natural Resources Foundation, and donations to it will be tax deductible.

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