Improving ‘jewel of the city’
Hodag Park amphitheater fundraising nears goal
By Eileen Persike
A city jewel, located along the banks of Rhinelander’s Boom Lake, shone brightly in the midday sun as a small crowd gathered to admire the blue sky and water, green grass and the few remaining colored leaves that hung on in the breeze. The jewel in question is Hodag Park. The gathering was to celebrate fundraising progress made toward park improvements.
The GFWC Rhinelander Woman’s Club president presented the city with a $10,000 donation, which brings the fundraising total to $320,000 of the $400,000 goal.
“I’m very excited to move things forward and to extend many more opportunities to the townspeople,” said club president Cindy Goll. “I feel very happy to be here with other people who support the Rhinelander community and believe in its residents and believe in the growth and prosperity of Rhinelander.”
This initial park improvement plan calls for an amphitheater with a stage and ADA accessible walkways to a seating area. Ideas for improvements have been bounced around for the past several years, if not longer. The city of Rhinelander has pledged $100,000 to the project. The Rhinelander Community Foundation set up a fundraising campaign and an anonymous donor presented a $100,000 matching grant to go toward the Hodag Park Improvement Fund.
“We feel that anytime that upgrades and modern amenities are enhanced in the park it adds to the quality of living in our community, which lends nicely to the mission of the Rhinelander Community Foundation,” said RCF representative Gina Heck.
The project means a boost for the arts in the community as well.
“Anytime we can activate our public spaces with more gathering spaces and performance spaces and more opportunities for the community to come together, it’s an exciting thing,” said Melinda Childs, community and cultural director at ArtStart in partnership with Nicolet College. “We’ve been working closely with the city in brainstorming ways to bring our cultural programming out of our building and into the community and sharing it with the wider public so we’re raring to go and we’ve got ideas and we’re really excited about this project.”
The stage will be situated between the parking lanes and the area where the Hodag Water Show performs in the summer. About $82,000 is needed to reach the city’s goal and to begin construction.
“The schedule, we believe, as soon as we can break ground in the spring, weather dependent, we’ll have the project wrapped up by summer,” said Rhinelander City Administrator Zach Vruwink. “So depending on how long that takes we may be able to use the stage next year. That’s our hope and that’s our plan.”
2023 city street improvements planned
In other city news, Oneida Avenue and surrounding Rhinelander streets are slated for significant improvements anticipated to begin in 2023. Last week the City Council approved Town and Country Engineering’s preliminary design scope of services proposal to get the work started.
The improvements will include constructing new sanitary sewer, water main, storm sewer and street improvements for Oneida Avenue (Lincoln Street to E. Frederick Street), Conro Street (Courtney Street to Oneida), E. King Street (S. Stevens Street to Oneida) and E. Anderson Street (S. Pelham Street to Oneida).
Senior project engineer Mark Barden said it is important to get started now to secure funding through state and federal agencies.
“The plan is to start the survey, get the preliminary design put together by spring with the preliminary engineering report to submit with the application with Rural Development to get the ball rolling,” Barden told the council.
The improvement project cost is estimated at $7-$8 million. With assistance from Town & Country, the city will be applying for funding through Rural Development, Clean Water Fund, Safe Drinking Water Loan Program and others. Submittal dates for these sources are as soon as next spring.
The preliminary services by Town and Country were approved to not exceed $63,500. Based on the information gathered, the engineers will prepare a contract for the final design of the project in spring, 2022.
City declines to pay former alder’s legal costs
The Rhinelander City Council last week voted to deny a $1,650 claim filed against the city by a former council alderperson. Dawn Rog asked the city to pay her legal fees incurred during a 2019 incident in which Rog was investigated by the Vilas County Sheriff’s Department. Rog was accused of pushing a city IT contractor at city hall. No charges were ever filed.
Rog’s request is similar to one filed by former city administrator Daniel Guild and denied by the council last month. City attorney Steve Sorenson said that like Guild, Rog was not acting in her official capacity with the city.
“If you are acting within your official capacity then you would have insurance coverage and a claim would be covered,” Sorenson told the council.
“She did it on her own…there was an incident report submitted that involved her in non-official capacity,” he added.
In a letter addressed to city finance director Wendi Bixby, dated Sept. 24, Rog referenced the city covering legal defense costs “for various allegedly illegal activities by the mayor, current and former city council members and the former city administrator.”
“Everyone has a right to file a claim against the city,” Sorenson said. “This is predicated on the fact that the city covered the expenses of other aldermen through the walking quorum case which was a case against the city with the councilmen in their official capacity.”
Alderman Andrew Larson made the motion to deny Rog’s claim, which passed unanimously.