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Leaving home: City dept. finds timely park location

Hoffman Park: If you're the Parks & Recreation Department, what better place to go if you're forced to relocate?

And so it goes.

On Monday, July 7, Parks & Recreation will shift its office from the confines of the soon-to-be demolished Ingram Center to the "octagon shelter" at Hoffman Park.

Parks & Rec has been at the Ingram Center, 210 Lewis St., since 1980.

That's the same year Danke got hired as a Youth Center recreational aide. Her job was paid for by a federal grant.

When that money ran dry she was taken on to work for Parks & Rec. In 1985 she became department coordinator.

That's a long time ago and Danke, at the end of the interview for this story, got choked up and teary-eyed about leaving the Ingram Center.

"It's an old building but, yes, I feel nostalgic for it," she said, wiping her eyes. "It's been a good place to work and people are used to coming here."

Nostalgia aside, the reality is that Parks & Rec must move. The Ingram Center is being torn down this summer, replaced by a new City Hall.

When that new City Hall opens, Parks & Rec will finally join other city departments under the same roof in that facility.

Meanwhile, between the razing of Ingram and the opening of a new City Hall, Parks & Rec needs new digs.

It was decided to set up temporarily at the eight-sided rental shelter at Hoffman Park. While smaller physically than the current site at Ingram Center, Danke said the Hoffman shelter building offers roughly the same office/work station space.

Unlike the Ingram Center location, the Hoffman Park shelter lacks meeting space for small groups and storage for bats, balls, helmets, rackets, nets, first-aid kits and swimming pool supplies.

But the Hoffman shelter is heated. Throw in a room air-conditioner and it'll be usable for both summer and winter.

Over the years the shelter's been rented for family gatherings and reunions. It was also used as a warming house when youth hockey played out at Hoffman in winter.

For a department that handles more than 2,500 kids and adults who participate in everything from swimming and soccer to baseball and volleyball, Danke said Hoffman Park is a good spot for her department to be.

"This is our busy time of the year, but fortunately we have most everyone already registered for these summer activities," she said. "If this move had been a month earlier when registration was still going on, that would have been a real headache."

Danke also likes being at Hoffman because she'll be able to monitor the 15 overnight camp sites and answer questions about availability just by stepping out her office door.

"And we get questions about field conditions because of rain for softball games," she said. "Again, it will be a lot easier to check on those conditions when I'm right there."

Hoffman Park also has a skateboard area. Safety concerns and conflicts between big and little kids will be easier to control with the Parks & Rec office within view.

Hoffman Park also had much greater visibility for Parks & Rec than the Ingram Center, though Danke said families were so used to going to the Ingram Center that she never considered its location obscure.

"We've been here 28 years. People know how to find us," she said.

The new Hoffman Park office site will not require much renovation. Work stations will be laid out in the open without partitions. A new reception counter will be set up for greeting the public. Phone and computer lines must be installed.

The park has plenty of free parking, which should make the new office site accessible.

Danke said she'll miss the convenience of being close to downtown. In the winter, her department was also close to the River Falls Academy, where Parks & Rec-sponsored basketball, volleyball and dance programs are held.

Vandalism is occasionally a problem at Hoffman Park. Danke said new security measures, possibly adding a surveillance camera, would be needed to safeguard the Parks & Rec office.

"Sure, it's sad to leave here, but I'm also happy to be going to Hoffman," Danke said. "There are so many people using that park that it's an ideal place for us to be."

When Danke says "us," it mostly means just her. She has two part-time staffers and, in the summer, 25-30 part-time employees who oversee the Glen Park pool, along with soccer, tennis, gymnastic, baseball and softball programs.

Right before the transfer to Hoffman park, Danke said there may be a brief disruption of phone service for those calling Parks & Rec. But the packing and moving will go quick and the office won't shut down.

Phone number and office hours at the new location will remain the same: 425-0924; 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.