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Paynesville Press - Jan. 22, 2003

School considers pool request

By Michael Jacobson

If school property is to be used at all for a community pool, the most likely spot is the field just north of the high school student parking lot, based on discussion by the school board last week.

The school board has not made a final decision on the matter, but a majority of the board seemed skeptical about whether the school could afford to allow any of its land to be used for a pool, especially since the airport zoning limits the school district's future uses of the southern portion of its property. If it could, the preference expressed last week was that the site north of the high school student parking lot might be a better location.

Pool map - illustration by Michael Jacobson (Beyond possibly providing land for the pool, the school district is not planning to play any part in financing a community pool, which due to lower building costs and fewer maintenance expenses would be an outdoor facility.)

The pool committee has approached the school district to see if there is any interest in allowing a community pool to be built on school property. The top two sites for a pool, as identified by the pool committee, are located on school property (Site #1 and Site #2). The school board is expected to make a decision about allowing its land to be used at its next meeting: on Tuesday, Jan. 28, at 8 p.m. Other than possibly allowing its land to be used, the school district is not planning any financial participation in the community pool effort.

The pool committee has identified four possible sites for an aquatic park, and the two school sites top their list due to their visibility and location near other recreation activities. The pool committee has asked the school board to decide by the end of January whether the school has any interest in allowing any of its property to be used for a pool.

"We're just trying to find out where the school is at," explained Brad Skoglund, a co-chairman of the pool committee. "What are your thoughts? Is there a way the city and school can work something out?"

The school board discussed the matter last week and is expected to make a final decision at its next meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 28.

Discussion started on the south school site, which the pool committee thinks is the top site due to its location and visibility. City engineers have identified 5.8 acres between the middle school parking lot and the airport zoning.

School board chairman Pat Flanders said it would be poor planning to tie up school land without knowing the school's needs for the next 20 or 30 years. The district might need a new elementary school and might want to have it all on one campus, he said. Or the community might grow and the school buildings might need to expand. Or enrollment might continue to decline and the school district might have to look at consolidation and may need to expand the high school/middle school to be the main school site.

"Unfortunately, with the airport zoning, we only have 5.8 acres left and quite frankly that makes me uncomfortable," said Flanders. "Or let me put it this way: I wish we had more land."

"I won't have to deal with it but I think it would be extremely poor planning on the part of the school district," said Flanders. "Move the airport." Without the airport zoning, said Flanders, the school could make it work.

Other options for the pool committee - the two city well sites - have fewer complications, said Flanders. "I support the pool. And I'm glad you have more than two options," he said.

Flanders - along with Deb Glenz, Gretchen O'Fallon, and Allen Schmidt - were pessimistic towards the south site, saying there were too many variables, including the airport zoning and the future route of Highway 23.

Board member Mark Dingmann thought the district could afford to spare the land for a pool, even the south site. He suggested that the school could still build a new elementary school or expand its middle/high school building to the opposite side, by using the existing elementary school site, or by building up (by adding a second story) instead of out.

With district enrollment now close to 1,100 students, down from a high of over 1,400 in 1994-95, building a new school does not appear to be an imminent need. Something would have to change drastically for it to happen, said Dingmann.

"If we would give up three buildable acres, I don't see that as a make-or-break issue for us," he said.

Board member Tami Stanger also appeared to support a pool, saying the school could build a new school in the current middle school parking lot and then put parking lots in the restricted airport zone.

She and Dingmann suggested not giving all the 5.8 acres of the south site to the pool. Instead, they suggested putting the pool itself outside the airport zoning while putting whatever could be (parking, recreation) in the restricted space.

The north school site was the site identified for the pool in the 1990s, when the school board agreed to sell the property for $1 for an aquatic park.

Superintendent Howard Caldwell told the school board that if he had to choose one of the two school sites it would be better to allow the north site to be used for a pool. This site was close to the tennis courts and the athletic fields but was a less likely spot for the school district ever to build, said Caldwell.

This site is used for athletic practices and for physical education classes, but other open areas on the school property could be used for these if an aquatic park was built there.

Flanders said if the board decides to support the pool project that he would go with the north site, too, calling it "the lesser of two evils." "It would certainly leave us with a lot more flexibility," said O'Fallon. The school board should make a final decision about the pool on Tuesday, Jan. 28, at 8 p.m. in the elementary media center.

The pool committee, according to Skoglund, hopes to put the pool project to a vote in the spring, start construction next fall, and have the pool ready for use by the summer of 2004.

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