Acquiring and maintaining recreational facilities

Oakdale is one of the small cities of Minnesota that embraces all things outdoors. East of St. Paul and just west of the Wisconsin border, it attracts people who enjoy the opportunity to experience the changing seasons. Thus, while Oakdale has developed over the last 30 years from a population of 7,000 to just about 30,000, its facilities have expanded to meet its growing recreational needs.

Taking part in that progression is Randy Bastyr, parks and building maintenance superintendent for the city of Oakdale. He started with the city in 1979 as a mechanic and heavy equipment operator. When he was promoted to street and parks supervisor in 1982, he had a staff of three. Oakdale had six developed parks at that time. Streets became a separate department, with its own superintendent, in 2004. Oakdale’s Public Works Department now has 26 full-time employees and 28 parks spread across the city’s 10 square miles.

The finished skateboard park. Insets: The park under construction.

Bastyr oversees the maintenance of all the city buildings, using in-house and contracted services to cover everything from lights and plumbing to trash collection and sidewalk snow removal. The street department handles street and parking lot maintenance.

Parks overview

“We’ve focused much attention over the years to acquiring and developing park land,” says Bastyr. “City ordinances require each new development to either set aside land for recreational purposes or provide the cash equivalent. That has helped spread the park sites throughout the city. Most areas are now developed, though we do anticipate at least one more major area of development. 3M owns most of this land, and together we are pursuing the possibility of a large youth sports complex. We’re also involved in an aggressive program of updating the facilities within our major parks and plan to complete that process within the next four years.”

Bastyr works with the parks and recreation director and the parks commission on park design and renovation decisions, both in long-range planning and the annual update/renovation process. Following the city’s input, an architect will develop the site plans, which go out to bid. Once the contractor is selected, Bastyr typically oversees the on-site construction.

He says, “I do help guide the turf and landscape details. The city forester is in charge of the flowerbeds, as well as trees and shrubs. Together, we look closely at the long-range maintenance involved and may still make revisions at the installation stage if necessary. It’s rewarding to watch the plans progress from paper to the park sites.”

The parks range from small, neighborhood green spaces with just a few amenities to large, multipurpose facilities. The largest developed park, covering 80 acres (including wetlands), is Richard Walton Memorial Park. It includes a four-field adult regulation softball complex, a four-field youth baseball/softball complex and a full-size football field, all under lights; three tennis courts; two basketball courts; a regulation-size hockey rink; three picnic shelters; a tot-lot playground area; and a band shell that hosts the city’s summer concert series. It’s also the site of the Oakdale Summerfest, a citywide, multi-event extravaganza. Bastyr serves as the city liaison, working with the volunteer board that coordinates the activities.

Bastyr says, “We just did a $1.2 million update at this park and will be adding a warming house to the hockey rink and concessions for the field complexes this year. A major addition is the state-of-the-art, all-concrete skate park.”

The Walton Park hockey rink.

Tanners Lake Park features a beach, fishing pier and boat launch area, among other amenities. It’s the site of the annual Fourth of July fireworks display.

The largest park space is the Oakdale Nature Preserve, with a 28-acre lake and 160 acres of undeveloped, passive space. Multiple hiking, biking and cross-country ski trails enhance the site, along with the city’s newest structure, the Discovery Nature Center.

Pouring the 291 yards of concrete for the hockey rink.

Oakdale strives to meet the widespread, multi seasonal recreational needs of its residents. Ball fields are a feature of many of the medium and smaller neighborhood parks. One site features seven horseshoe courts and hosts organized league play. Overall, three recreational ice rinks and three outdoor hockey rinks encourage winter sports participation.

Staffing

Oakdale’s recreation department works closely with the local athletic associations to coordinate programming, as well as managing other recreational programs in-house. They handle the staffing for everything from the lifeguards at the beach to the warming house attendants and the concession stand personnel.

Bastyr works in conjunction with all those involved to develop the field-use schedules, including schedules for tournaments and special events. Saturdays are off-field days, except for tournaments, which generally take place at least twice a month. The state fast-pitch softball tournament was held in Oakdale in 2000. In 2007, they hosted the Northern Region 15-and-under and 12-and-under national fast-pitch tournaments. This year, they’ll be hosting the Region 9 national girls’ fast-pitch softball tournaments for girls 18 and under, 15 and under and 12 and under.

Using a special machine to lay the big roll sod.

Bastyr has a parks staff of six full-time personnel and six part-time, seasonal employees. He says, “Each part-timer is assigned to a full-time staff member. They’re primarily college students, working from early or mid-May through mid-August or early September. Many return for two or three years.”

Two of the crews concentrate on the athletic fields. One is stationed at the Walton complex and also handles a few of the surrounding parks. The other crew travels with a truck and trailer, working from north to south to cover the other parks. Each has a field drag, hand tools and chalking equipment. The traveling crew uses a Ransomes/Cushman utility vehicle. The complex crew has a Toro Sand Pro and a utility cart.

Two other crews tackle the mowing with a 15-foot Jacobsen rotary gang mower. Another mowing crew handles the finish work around the fields, trees, signs and on the boulevards that extend along the 5-mile-long and 2-mile-wide strip that makes up the city. They use a Toro 4100 wide-area, rotary mower; two zero-turn radius mowers; and weed whips.

Other crew members handle general maintenance, pick up trash, rake the beach at least once a week, work the weekend tournaments—including dragging the baseball/softball fields between games—clean and prep the general-use park areas and take on the stream of work orders that are generated throughout the season.

Fall brings field renovation projects. Winter work includes policing the ice areas and cleaning, sweeping and hand-flooding the ice surfaces, snow removal on the sidewalks surrounding city buildings and snow removal on the 40 miles of paved trails.

Bastyr says, “We work from a master schedule, which includes field use details, developed as far in advance as possible. But, with changing weather conditions and added activities, we’re continually making adjustments. We keep a master board in the maintenance building for each crew to check off what they’ve accomplished each day. We hold a crew meeting every morning to review that and determine where crews need to be [and] when to make it all work.”

Field use

The parks department maintains 29 fields across the city; 18 are city-owned, eight belong to local schools and three to churches. Bastyr says, “We maintain the school and church fields in exchange for field use as it fits into their programs’ schedules. One of the churches has a full-size baseball field and a softball field that are both irrigated. We maintain that system and also pay for the water. Five of the fields at Skyview School are irrigated. They maintain the system and cover water costs. The city’s only irrigated fields are the two four-field complexes at Walton.”

Finish grading of turf and ornamental areas.

The city baseball and softball fields have 100 percent ag lime infields. A few of the school fields have grass infields with skinned material base paths. All of the fields are native soil, a mix of clay and peat that poses drainage challenges. All the fields have a mix of cool-season grasses—perennial ryegrasses, turf-type fescues and Kentucky bluegrasses—with the varieties and percentages varying from field to field and within the microclimates across each field surface.

Softball and baseball leagues start practice in early May, with games beginning by mid-May. Some of the high schools use the fields for practices even earlier when possible. Some years, all field use has been delayed until late May due to spring snows or lingering snow cover. A fall softball league uses the adult complex until the end of October. The other baseball and softball leagues wrap up by the end of July. Soccer and football practices start in the middle of August. There is one dedicated football field in the parks system and one at a high school site. All other play takes place on the baseball and softball outfields.

The grand opening of the tot-lot with the mayor and city council in the back row.

Field maintenance

Bastyr says, “We’ve not added lacrosse to the mix yet, though there is talk of doing so. As it is, we have a two-week window in late summer to convert to soccer and football. Those programs are generally short-season, wrapping up from mid to late-October, though we do go into November with some of the football tournaments.

“Our major field renovations take place in the fall. We work on each field as it comes off play, with core aeration, topdressing with washed sand from one of the local sandpits and overseeding. We wrap up as much as we can by the end of October. Winter can move in by early November, or even before. Snow lingers so long it’s usually too soft and wet to get out on the fields before use begins in the spring.”

Color-coating the tennis courts.

Field maintenance begins in the early spring with the start-up of the irrigation systems. Ball field fences and bleachers are checked and repaired. As surfaces allow it, the infield areas are leveled, raked and prepped. Turf work, including spring aeration, comes at the end of May or first of June. A third aeration will be slipped into the schedule whenever possible to help alleviate drainage, compaction and wear issues.

Bastyr says, “The individual field fertilization programs are based on soil test results. In Minnesota, phosphorus can only be applied if test results specify the need for it. We develop the fertilizer specs and put the fertilizer applications and pesticide applications out for bid every year. We mow the irrigated fields two to three times a week, as growth requires. All of the other fields are mowed once a week.”

Water use is the major environmental issue. Water restrictions, allowing only odd and even day irrigation, have been in place for eight years. With PFCs (perfluorocarbon emissions) found in the groundwater in Minnesota, the city has upgraded their own water treatment plant to include a Calgon charcoal filter system. All water moves through that plant. Drilling new wells is also stringently controlled. Though, with a holding pond already on the Walton complex, a separate well for field irrigation may be a future consideration.

Working together

Bastyr says, “Cooperation, communication and multitasking keep everyone working together well. Our entire staff understands [that] we may all wear many hats throughout the course of the season to get the job done. We’re all focused on providing the best possible recreational experiences for our community.”

Suz Trusty is a partner in Trusty & Associates, a communications and market research firm located in Council Bluffs, Iowa.