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Paynesville Press - March 24, 2004

Due to costs, committee recommends outdoor pool

By Michael Jacobson

One of the first decisions facing the ad hoc aquatic park committee 18 months ago was what type of pool to build for Paynesville.

Shortly after forming in the summer of 2002, the committee - comprised by members from the city of Paynesville and from Paynesville Township - hired a consultant and started examining their needs and wants for a pool. Their first decision was that Paynesville needed more than a basic rectangular pool.

Their second decision, much harder, was that they should build an outdoor aquatic park, not an indoor pool. That decision was based on the extra costs associated with an indoor pool.

Some committee members, echoing a common public concern, thought that it made more sense in Minnesota to build an indoor pool, which could be used 12 months, rather than an outdoor pool, which could only be used a few months each year.

The deciding factor for the committee was finances. USAquatics - a firm that specializes in building pools in small towns and hired as the consultants for Paynesville's project -╩informed the committee that the construction costs for an indoor pool would be two or three times as much as an outdoor pool and that the operating costs for an indoor pool would be four times as much.

The pool proposed for Paynesville, with exactly the same features, would cost at least $3 to $3.5 million to build as an indoor facility, said Bill Deneen, an engineer with USAquatics. An indoor pool costs more to build because, in addition to the actual pool, construction also includes a building.

Actually, an indoor pool would likely cost much more, said Deneen, since stand-alone indoor pools do not fare well, most are built as part of a community or recreation center, adding to the cost.

Operating costs for an indoor pool are also greater, according to Deneen. In Lake Crystal, a city about the size of Paynesville, their indoor pool in 2002 had $679,900 in expenses, resulting in a $338,000 operating deficit that was covered by the city ($218,800) and through fundraising ($119,200).

With indoor pools, the operating costs are extended throughout the year, increasing the costs fourfold. While it may sound enticing to go swimming during a Minnesota winter, the reality is that a public pool would gets the most use in the summer. An outdoor aquatic park fares better in operating costs -╩hopefully breaking even or coming close - because its season matches the time of greatest demand for swimming.

Choosing an outdoor pool
Once USAquatics showed the committee the costs for building and operating an indoor pool, the members agreed that an outdoor aquatic park was the best choice for Paynesville. "Once these numbers came in, it got decided pretty quickly," said city administrator Steve Helget, who serves as a nonvoting member of the committee.

Another factor for the committee in opting for an outdoor pool was that the community already has an indoor pool available for use, although commercially, at the Paynesville Inn and Suites.

The committee was conscious of cost when picking the design of the aquatic park for Paynesville, including deciding for an outdoor pool, said city resident Mary Janotta, a co-chair of the committee.

In fact, USAquatics told the pool committee that indoor pools almost never operate efficiently in communities less than 15,000 unless the project is in partnership with a school. The Paynesville Area School District is a partner in the aquatic park proposal, but only in providing the land for the aquatic park, which would be built on the athletic field to the north of the student parking lot at the high school, just south of the armory. The school is not a financial partner in the project.

In fact, the city has agreed to share maintenance costs for two school service roads and the high school parking lot, which would be used for parking for the aquatic park in the summer as well.

Instead of the school, the city and the township have agreed to build an outdoor aquatic park, if voters in both the city and township pass a referendum on Tuesday, April 20. The city and township will split the construction costs for the aquatic park on a 62 to 38 basis, with the city responsible for $775,000 and the township responsible for $475,000, providing a total of $1.25 million for construction. Once built, the city would be solely responsible for operations and operating costs.

Indoor pool proposals
An indoor pool has been talked about by the school district, off and on, since the 1960s, when one was considered, but not included, in the building of the high school. An indoor pool was considered again, but again not included, in 1974 in another school building project, which was rejected.

The city briefly considered a domed pool in the late 1970s, and the Paynesville Jaycees pursued an indoor pool as part of a health club proposal in the early 1980s. The pool was dropped from that proposal, again due to cost, before that whole project fizzled.

In 1987, an indoor pool was part of the school building proposal for a new middle school. This proposal was rejected by nearly a 3 to 1 margin by voters, and when the new middle school was approved in the 1990s, an indoor pool was omitted.

During the last school building project, the auditorium and fitness center that voters approved in 1999, an indoor pool again was not included, with school officials citing cost.

The last local pool proposal, back in the early 1990s, stalled due to slow fundraising, and also recommended an outdoor aquatic park.

And now, in 2004, the recommendation of the pool committee again is that an indoor pool would cost too much. The committee feels the best alternative for Paynesville is an outdoor aquatic park.

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