Park Board approves Wi-Fi installations

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board on Wednesday unanimously voted to approve a contract that will allow the installation of up to 44 nodes for the city’s wireless Internet network.

Commissioners said they came to that conclusion after residents appeared to be OK with the idea of putting up the football-sized boxes on parkland light poles.

“I’m confidence that they’re feeling pretty good about this,” Commissioner Tracy Nordstrom said about her constituents.

Parks staff also recommended the approval.

“There’s a definitive answer to each of the issues that have been raised,” General Manager Michael Schmidt told the board.

That was in contrast to staff’s response in December, when the proposal was first brought to the board. At that time, approval was delayed because the Park Board felt the issue had been sprung upon them at the last second. The project had been in the works on the city end for years, but commissioners said they’d never been an official part of the process.

With approval of the contract come several understandings, including that all nodes installed on parkway light poles will be painted to match the poles’ colors.

Installations of new plain-wood temporary poles, like the ones around Lake of the Isles that caused a stir last year, will not be allowed, while already existing temporary poles will remain in place until permanent replacements arrive. USI will be responsible for any costs related to the nodes.

It’s expected that about 16 recreation centers in the parks system will apply to get free access to the Wi-Fi network. During negotiations, the Park Board also asked for a 10 percent discount if the entire system were to switch to USI service, but that was denied. USI CEO Joe Caldwell in a letter to the board said that even without the requested discount, the parks system could save as much as $80,000 per year by making the switch.