Pat Carroll is leading the charge to reopen Rochester’s Silver Lake Park pool.
“It just seems like a valuable, valuable asset to our community, and we hope there is something we can do to keep it going,” said the former swimming coach and retired business owner.
Carroll has been working with a group of like-minded residents under the name “Let Them Swim.” They’ve started an online petition with a two-fold agenda -- opening the pool this year and expanding it in future years.
As of Thursday afternoon, the petition was 50 signatures shy of it’s goal to gather 1,000 supporters.
Closing the 63-year-old Silver Lake pool was part of the city’s Parks and Recreation System plan adopted in 2016, and the timetable moved up last year to reduce city expenses as the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
The move was part of a $113,000 savings in expenses related to the city’s pools and beaches last year, according to a recent report by Dale McCamish, Rochester’s director of sports facilities.
No funds for Silver Lake pool operations were included in the city’s 2021 budget.
As a result, Parks and Recreation Director Paul Widman said any ability to reopen the pool will depend on the Rochester City Council, rather than the Park Board.
“Because we did not fund operating the Silver Lake pool for this year, it really wouldn’t be appropriate to bring it to the board, because the board couldn’t take action to restore that funding,” he said.
Carroll said he plans to take the issue to the council on May 3. The Park Board meets May 4, so it’s uncertain whether a plan could be in place before the traditional Memorial Day opening.
Carroll said members of the Let Them Swim group have already spoken with council members who support changing the plans adopted last year. He said several community groups rely on the pool during the summer, and more pressure could be added if activities at the Rec Center are moved to Soldiers Field, as expected.
At the same time, he acknowledged a new course would come with added cost.
Widman said determining the cost of reopening the pool after a year of closure is difficult. The city has spent approximately $39,000 in maintenance and $15,000 in staff expenses in recent years, which would be a starting point.
“It is not as simple as factoring in what we spent in 2019,” he said, adding work would need to be done to keep it open all summer.
“Based on our history, it is unlikely we would make it through the season without experiencing some maintenance issues,” he said.
A 2017 facility assessment identified $877,000 in recommended upgrades to keep the facility in operation. Issues included added maintenance needs for pool surfaces and the filtration system, as well as bringing the recirculation system and bathhouse into compliance with building safety and Minnesota Department of Health codes.
The recommendations came after the city paid $32,000 to repair and caulk the pool body and pool deck following leaks in 2012, and $11,000 was spend in 2016 to address some maintenance concerns.
Carroll said other needed repairs and the lack of consistent upgrades through the years point to the need for having two pools in the city.
“If the Soldiers Field pool has a hard time to get going, at least we have a backup at Silver Lake,” he said.
Carroll said he would like to see the council consider using a portion of the $17.5 million the city will receive from the federal American Rescue Plan.
“With COVID, we’ve noticed a lot of outdoor activity has increased,” he said, adding increased usage, combined with expected attendance limits, show the need for a second city pool.
Some Park Board members have supported revisiting the issue if funding is available, or at least adjusting a long-term strategy.
“I wish there was a way we could open that up, so we could use that,” said board member Dick Dale, who represents the ward that includes Silver Lake Park.
Board member Chad Ramaker said he doesn’t see that happening, but would like to address the lack of water-based amenities in parks.
“I do agree that our aquatics are super underwhelming, and hopefully as time goes on we can get those master plans done,” he said.
The city’s system plan calls for maintaining a lap pool and children’s water activities in Soldiers Field Park, while creating a different type of water feature in Silver Lake Park.
“Our goal here is not just to close Silver Lake pool,” Widman told the city council last year. “We feel we have very good reasons not to reopen that pool, but it’s not just to leave it behind. It’s to move forward with the planning that is already in place.”
Carroll said the Let Them Swim representatives would like the city to revisit the plan to add more options for swimming, as well as other waterpark features.
Widman said changing the system plan would require council action, but efforts are being made to gather community input on the topic.
“Parks and Recreation has been working with the city communication team on developing some community engagement activities around outdoor aquatics in general and the specific questions that have come up regarding Silver Lake Pool,” he said.