The pool is half full

A rendering of the future aquatic center. Submitted
A rendering of the future aquatic center. Submitted

By Clay Schuldt
Caledonia Argus

Last month the Save Our Swimming Pool Campaign (SOS) managed to hit the dollar amount necessary for the city of Caledonia to purchase plans for the new pool from USAquatics. The question at the special June 25 meeting of the Caledonia City Council became which plans to purchase.
While the original plan was to spend $1.7 million to renovate the existing pool, some concerns had been raised over whether the pool should be renovated or be completely redone.
In the past month, USAquatics drafted a second plan that would be a complete reconstruction and would not use any of the existing pool.
Tom Schaffer of USAquatics attended the meeting to explain the pros and cons of going with a complete redesign. The benefits include a large zero-depth section for the youngest swimmers, two diving boards, the current basketball court would not need to be eliminated, the concession stand could accommodate the baseball field, and the layout would create a better separation of the various age groups. The biggest change was the bathhouse, which would be redone with a covered seating area for concessions.
The biggest downside to this new design was it would cost more. Current estimates put it at $300,000 more than the renovation, putting the new pool cost at around $2 million.
The reason for the complete overhaul rather than a renovation is due to the equipment under the pool.
“We have no idea what the drainage is underneath,” said City Administrator Ted Schoonover, “It’s been there for 60 years.”
Councilmember Dewayne Schroeder stated last month, and again at this meeting, that the age of the pool was a significant issue. Schroeder, who has past experience working with Caledonia’s pool, commented that the pool’s old mechanical equipment and piping was too out of date to be preserved in a renovation. The drainage of the pool is an issue, as well, as leakage is a problem. Schroeder was concerned that renovation would not be the best use of the pool money.
“If we’re already paying $1.7 million, what is another $300,000 to do it right?” Schroeder said.
“It’s a lot more risky when you are renovating,” Schaffer admitted. “You know better what you are getting with the new building.”
Additional costs could come up during the construction process if the old equipment were worse than originally estimated. A complete reconstruction would be more expensive, but the costs were more predictable.
Several members of the SOS group said they were concerned about the additional costs killing the pool project, since there was limit to the number of pledges available in town. At the time of the meeting, the SOS group had acquired through pledges a total of $818,560. This did not include the city’s contribution to the pool fund, which puts the total near $1.2 million.
However, it was pointed by Schoonover that only $434,536 of the pledges had been paid. More than $300,000 in pledge money had yet to be paid. While the majority of Caledonia residents attending the meeting believed the new plans were better, it would delay the construction of the new pool until additional funds could be found.
Joanna Zard, campaign volunteer, did broach the idea of having the community vote on a referendum to raise the additional funds. Both the council and SOS group had reservations of raising taxes, as it had been the intention to complete the pool project without it effecting taxes. Citizens with outstanding pledges might decide not to pay if their taxes are increased as well.
Schaffer did point out that La Crescent used a referendum to build their pool, which passed by 73 percent.
Schaffer suggested a few options that could potentially lower the cost of the pool project, such as using some volunteer help. The demolition costs of $40,000 could be covered by volunteers. Schaffer said Spring Grove saved $200,000 on their pool project by using volunteer labor. Schaffer also suggested keeping the bath house as open-air as possible.
Councilmember Robert Lemke said that while this new plan did not have everything the community wanted, once the pool was constructed, other additional features could be added to the pool when money became available.
The consensus at the meeting was that the old pool needed to be replaced. A quick poll of those attending the meeting indicated the majority preferred the new plan that calls for a complete reconstruction of the pool. Zard said it is necessary to be “good stewards” of the pool fund and build the pool right.
The council voted to approve the purchase of the new pool design. The council was optimistic about going forward with the purchasing of the plans.
Mayor Robert Burns commented that, with specific plans to show the community, the public could get an idea of the scope of the redesign and could garner further support for the project. In addition, with actual plans, the city could start seeking quotes and possible volunteer support.
Councilmember Tom Murphy said he sees the situation as “glass half full.” While the SOS campaign had not raised all the necessary funds at this time, they had gotten the project off to a great start, and he was optimistic about the pool’s potential.
“This is going to put the city in quite a position as a far as infrastructure and services to the community,” he said.