Fairmont talks parks, road repair

FAIRMONT — To say Nick Lardy, Fairmont’s Park and Street Departments supervisor, has a lot of irons in the fire would be a gross understatement. Lardy was in the spotlight at “Saturday Morning With the City” at Ward Park.

The one-hour events are held periodically throughout the year to give residents a chance to offer comments, opinions or questions of city management staff and elected officials in an informal setting. The next “Saturday Morning” program is scheduled for November, and the topic will be the city’s 2020 budget.

Lardy shared a partial menu of his job duties which include overseeing a staff of 21 plus eight summer employees who maintain about 75 miles of streets, more than 40 miles of storm sewer and 550 acres of parks in the city.

“It’s a huge task, a lot of stuff going on,” he said, calling his staff awesome.

The city’s parks usually are opened the second week of May and closed Oct. 15, and the municipal crews keep them cleaned, mowed and maintained through those months. In addition, the city has 21 docks, most of which are put in every spring and removed each fall, and five boat landings. Plans are to upgrade one of the boat landings each year, with the one at Amber Lake Park on tap for this fall.

And they plow snow. A lot of snow. Often.

Lardy said the tree dump, which is under his purview, is “an absolute disaster right now” with the increasing amount of plant debris from recent storms. The man hired to grind the branches has a new wood chipper which experienced electrical problems on its second day, and although it looks like there has not been much done, about 30 truckloads of chips have been shipped out.

Repairing streets requires a lot of equipment and manpower so that can delay other projects, Lardy said. It was hoped that the recent repairs on Blue Earth Avenue would take four days, but the job stretched over two weeks.

He explained that the city gets asphalt from New Ulm, and if it is raining in New Ulm, the plant does not operate.

“We used close to 100 tons of asphalt on Lake Avenue. Our little trucks haul seven tons at a time so that’s how many times we have to drive to New Ulm,” Lardy said. Hiring larger trucks would not be feasible because of the expense but also the paver is designed for smaller trucks and the available manpower wouldn’t be able to keep up.

One previous procedure used to involve sending trucks to Estherville to haul gravel back to Fairmont over a three-week time period. When he took over leadership of the Park and Street Departments, he did a cost analysis which showed the practice to be more time-consuming and costly than contracting for larger trucks to haul the gravel.

“I’m a taxpayer too,” Lardy said. “Every move I make, I’ve got a few things to weigh out. What’s the cost? What’s the availability of the work crew? What’s the end result?”

The equipment used to maintain the city’s numerous parks and miles of streets is extremely expensive, and Lardy and his staff do their best to keep them functioning.

“Our oldest one is a 1979 road grader. When we go to buy parts, they give us the number of a salvage lot,” he said.

Lardy hears comments about all the new trucks city crews seem to be driving, but that is just a testament to the care and maintenance the vehicles receive to preserve them. The department just replaced one truck that was more than 25 years old, and, he says, his crew members are entitled to the same vehicle safety equipment that other motorists one the road have.

City Administrator Mike Humpal gave a brief update on the proposed new public works building, which was prompted by a surprise random OSHA inspection in 2015. With some parts dating back to the 1950s, the existing 19,500-square foot building has serious issues with air quality, safety, electrical and space.

In order to house all seasonal equipment, the design’s size has been increased by 50 percent to about 75,000 square feet from the original plan of 55,000 square feet, which makes it about 40 percent over the planned budget. Plans are to whittle down the projected cost of $9.2 million by changing some construction components, such as from concrete to metal, and eliminating a truck wash bay.

The site for the new building will be directly east of the old building on Margaret Street.

Upcoming park and street projects include seal coating, scheduled to start today, the removal of more than 60 tree stumps on boulevards, the fall leaf pick-up starting Oct. 28, replacing the Pioneer Bridge with a 5-ton pedestrian bridge, the Cedar Creek Park trail loop to be completed by Sept. 12, and work on Fourth Street, Lynn Street and Burton Lane to be completed by Nov. 15.

Humpal said when he calls Lardy to pass on a concern from a citizen, it often is already on the department’s to-do list. They take care of a multitude of problems, everything from fixing a pothole to removing a dead deer from a yard to getting baby ducks out of a storm drain to retrieving an exotic bird from a tree, which actually happened last week.

“He makes the council and staff look good because it’s done right away,” Humpal said. “These guys do a great job, and they deserve everybody’s respect and appreciation.”

Fairmont residents weighed in with positive comments about the new Amber Lake dam channel, the disc golf course and the imminent completion of the trail from the Winnebago Avenue Sports Complex to the hotels off Interstate 90.

Several residents of the North Grant Street area asked about remedies for rust in their water. Humpal said the area is fed by an old iron pipe that needs to be flushed and a filter system used. Residents asked about looping into another area for water, but that process would involve tearing up streets, a very costly endeavor.

Humpal assured the residents that the pipe would be flushed more often and all residents would be on a filter system until they can determine a cost-effective method to solve the problem.

“Your issue is not falling on deaf ears,” he said.