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Paynesville Press - July 21, 2004

Committee starts to tweak aquatic park

By Michael Jacobson

In hopes of bringing the aquatic park proposal to another vote in November, members of the ad-hoc committee - along with supporters - met on Sunday night at city hall to start planning for another campaign.

A proposed $1.25 million aquatic park - to be located on school grounds along Highway 23 - was rejected by city and township voters in April. It failed in the city by a vote of 381-292 and in the township by a vote of 305-257.

Before bringing a proposal back to the public for a vote, the committee plans to tweak its proposal (lowering the overall cost), to conduct fundraising for nonessential items (a water slide, for example), and to raise public awareness of the aquatic park project.

Neither the city council nor the township board have agreed, yet, to put the aquatic park proposal on the ballot again in November.

Project supporters feel the vote in April was close enough to warrant another referendum this fall at the general election, when voter turnout should be greater and election costs should be minimal since a general election is being held anyway. They divided into three teams (design, fundraising, and public awareness) to tweak the proposal and develop a plan that will justify putting the measure on the ballot again to the city council and township board.

After a half-hour discussion with pool critics to start Sunday's meeting (see discussion below), 18 ad-hoc committee members and supporters divided into committees to organize modifying the design, fundraising for the project, and marketing before the referendum.

When the pool committee met with city and township officials in June about putting the aquatic park to a vote again, they realized they needed community help to get the project through, said Greg Hansen, the township co-chair of the ad-hoc pool committee.

The design team is charged with modifying the design, hoping to reduce the overall cost of the aquatic park, despite inflationary increases due to a later construction date. Currently, the aquatic park proposal is for a heated pool with a surface area of 6,525 sq. ft. It would include a lap area (for fitness swimming and lessons), a plunge area (for diving and a water slide), and a splash area with zero-depth entry (getting gradually deeper like a beach).

They will also identify nonessential items that could be purchased through fundraising rather than with tax dollars. The fundraising committee will direct the effort to raise private funds and contributions to the aquatic park project.

The public awareness committee is charged with establishing a pricing policy for the proposed facility and with marketing the project.

Anyone wishing to help the pool supporters in organizing this campaign can contact Hansen at 243-3506 to work with the design team, city administrator Steve Helget at 243-3714 for the fundraising team, and Mary Janotta, city co-chair of the pool committee, at 243-3916 for the public awareness team.

These teams will meet separately over the next month and then will hold a joint meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 24, at 7 p.m. at city hall to discuss their overall plan and then take it to the Paynesville City Council and Paynesville Township Board of Supervisors in order to get the aquatic park proposal on the ballot again in November.

Critics continue to question pool proposal
Of the two dozen people who attended the pool committee meeting on Sunday night at city hall, a quarter came to question the proposal and wonder why the public needed to vote on it again.

Objections raised by these critics of the aquatic park project ranged from the cost in taxes to better community initiatives.

Pool supporters and critics sparred on a number of issues, including:

•Whether an aquatic park would run in the black or whether it would need operational support.

Critics doubted that the aquatic park would fare as well as projected and would therefore required additional taxpayer support.

Supporters said they could not guarantee that an aquatic park would operate in the black, but they argued that an aquatic park would keep patrons longer and attract more repeat visitors, giving it a better chance than an indoor pool (which would have more expenses) or a plain rectangular pool (which would have less income due to fewer amenities) to break even.

•Whether an aquatic park that would be open for three months was worth the cost.

Property taxes needed to pay for the pool project were one concern for the critics. Several wondered if the costs would actually be higher than proposed.

In questioning building an aquatic park, township resident Bob Meyer quoted a St. Cloud Times article saying that swimming has declined since 1980 and that pools are closing.

Supporters countered by arguing that pools that close are probably basic, rectangular pools without the attractions (slides, splash area, etc.) of an aquatic park. An indoor pool, they added, would cost three times as much to build and to operate, making an indoor pool too expensive for Paynesville.

The proposed Paynesville Area Aquatic Park would have heated water, they noted, which would make it possible to swim in the pool throughout the summer, unlike this year where a cool June prevented most people from swimming in the local lakes until July.

And they said they, too, pay taxes and would want to keep the tax impact of the pool project as small as possible.

•Whether senior citizens could afford the project.

Paying extra property taxes on a fixed income is difficult, noted one pool critic.

A community pool, though, would be available for water aerobics and other exercise options for seniors and would provide grandparents with a place to bring their grandchildren when visiting Paynesville, pool supporters replied.

•Whether an aquatic park would help the local economy.

Critics were concerned by the tax consequences of the pool project and were doubtful of any benefits. Township resident Peter Schoell said the money would have more impact for the community if put towards economic development or towards cleaning up the Crow River and local lakes.

Supporters, while realizing the aquatic park would not be a cure-all, said it would be an attraction for the community. In pursuing it, the committee is "trying to do something for kids and the community," said pool committee member Brad Skoglund. "Maybe it'll bring some families into our community. Maybe grandparents will bring their grandchildren to the pool. I think it will benefit our community."

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