The Maplewood Nature Center, which has been closed since mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic, will be closed indefinitely. However, the pond and trails will be maintained so people can still use the area.
City spokesperson Joe Sheeran told BMTN the city had to make a "tough financial decision" to close the center after most of the center's programming was canceled due to coronavirus and there were some unforeseen things in the city's budget.
Over the summer, the nature center will wind down services, including the virtual programming the center started amid the pandemic.
As a result of closing the center, three part-time nature staff were laid off and one staff member took early retirement. That person will stay on through September to continue virtual programming and help wind down programming, Sheeran said.
Why it's closing
The Maplewood Nature Center, which has been around for 40 years, is closing indefinitely in an effort to lessen the expected burden on taxpayers.
"Over the last several months, the city has been examining our financial outlook. With the economic downturns, we want to help ensure our actions don’t lead to additional financial hardships for our taxpayers," according to a letter from Maplewood City Manager Melinda Coleman that was sent to nature center volunteers. "We have tried to be creative about service delivery and put off the most painful decisions until we truly understood long-term impacts."
The letter says COVID-19 has made a "significant impact" on the city's budget with the cancellation of most programs and events.
That, coupled with the city expecting to collect fewer property taxes due to the hit commercial businesses have taken, led to the Maplewood City Council to direct department heads to deliver a 0 percent increase in the 2021 property tax levy in an effort to ease the financial burden on homeowners in Maplewood, the letter says.
Other budget constraints are also having an impact, with Sheeran telling BMTN that there's a $300,000 increase in worker's compensation premiums and a $200,000 increase in debt service payments.
In addition to closing the nature center, the city is also putting off park upgrades, equipment and vehicle purchases and reducing functions of the Parks and Recreation and the nature center, the letter said.
City is committed to environmental education
Despite closing the nature center, the City of Maplewood is still committed to environmental education and natural resources protection, Sheeran said.
Not only will the pond and trail at the nature center remain open and maintained, but the Maplewood City Council has directed staff to examine ways to partner with other entities to provide environmental education.
What that will look like is still being figured out.