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Building better neighbors: New WSU community meeting aims to build conversation with residents

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When a good neighbor is about to do some tree trimming or repair a fence, he or she reaches out to other neighbors to talk about it first.

That’s how Winona State President Scott Olson presented the university to community members at a public meeting on campus Tuesday night, part of ongoing university efforts to create stronger ties to the broader community and create dialogue around pressing issues.

“We’re glad you’re here to have this conversation,” Olson said to a crowd of about 50 community members. “We’ll try to have them more often.”

He invited the audience to ask questions or make comments throughout the meeting.

Topics of discussion included student engagement with the community, master planning, the Education Village, pedestrian tunnels at Winona Street and Johnson Street, and the proposed Lake Park baseball field improvement project.

There was plenty to talk about, and unsurprisingly, the Lake Park baseball field proposal raised a lot of questions.

Scott Ellinghuysen, vice president of finance and administrative services, said after receiving feedback at a public meeting this summer, the university revised its plans for the baseball field, opting to improve the other Bambenek fields, implement green lighting, ensure public access to the field, and revise signage to reflect the city’s ownership of the field.

Athletic director Eric Schoh said Loughrey Field, where the WSU baseball team currently plays, is too small for NCAA tournaments, and because it is grass, it limits the team’s ability to host home games in the spring.

Schoh said the proposed turf field, while allowing the Winona State baseball team to play and host games earlier in the spring, would also be convertible into a softball field and have a removable elevated pitcher’s mound.

Ellinghuysen said the new field, with seating for 700, would not resemble a stadium.

“It’s really just a baseball field,” he said.

Also added to the plans were raised grass berms that would allow spectators to watch from outside the fence. The plans were revised so the field does not interfere with Lake Park Drive, and a parking lot with at least 50 parking spaces has been included in the plans as well, to supplement the diagonal parking on Lake Park Drive.

One community member expressed concern that the fence line advertising might interfere with the view from Sarnia Street, and Schoh said the city would have final approval of fence line advertisements. A wind shield would be in place over the fence during games, but it would be removable.

Another question raised was why access to the current women’s softball field is limited — and why the field is kept locked when not in use.

City manager Judy Bodway said that’s how the city protects its facilities. “It’s no different than if you want to rent Holzinger Lodge,” she pointed out, referring to one of the city’s popular rental spaces.

As the meeting drew to a close, Olson stressed that baseball was not the only interest WSU had in updating the baseball field at Lake Park. The space currently occupied by Loughrey Field could later serve as space for the university to expand without cutting into the city’s tax rolls or crossing Huff Street or Main Street.

“We really don’t want to encroach on neighborhoods,” Olson said.

Neighborhoods were part of the conversation across all the topics discussed at the meeting. Kendra Weber, WSU director of student and community engagement, said her goal was to have meetings with the neighborhood surrounding Winona State more frequently.

That resonated with Angela Gotz, a WSU grad who lives near campus with her husband and two children. Gotz said the meeting was a chance to learn more about her neighbor and hopefully continue to stay informed.

“I was interested to hear what they were saying about dorms and master plans,” Gotz said. “I definitely would be interested to continue to hear what’s going on.”

Winona City Council member George Borzyskowski agreed with Gotz’s conclusion. “The university was very open about things,” he said. “We got a good vision as to where they want to go.”

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