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Park Board backs aquatic center concept without changes to golf course

Proposed alternative to community group's preferred plan would move new park shelter and play area northwest of pool location.

Alternative concept 1.jpg
An alternative concept design for a new Soldiers Field aquatics park would move the location of a planned shelter and nature play area to avoid golf course changes. The concepts were reviewed by the Rochester Park Board Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023.
Contributed / City of Rochester
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ROCHESTER — The Rochester Park Board is backing an aquatics park concept designed to eliminate potential impact to Soldiers Field Golf Course.

However, whether or not to change one or two holes on the golf course wasn't necessarily the driving force behind the decision.

“It spreads out the nature play area away from the pool area,” board member Mark Bilderback said while explaining his support of the alternative.

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A group of community members, known as co-designers, helped parks staff and a consultant develop a concept for park renovations that would create an aquatic center with a 50-meter pool, lazy river and other amenities. It would accommodate approximately 400 users.

The group’s preferred plan calls for adding a shelter, restrooms and nature play area west of the aquatic center, which would require moving at least one tee on the neighboring golf course.

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“The idea really focused on how do you stay in this one area for a longer period of time,” said Mike Nigbur, Rochester’s head of parks and forestry.

He said co-design team members pointed to the advantage of having a gathering space outside the aquatic center, where parents could take young children and still remain in visual range of other children in the pool area.

The Park Board voted 4-2 to support an alternative plan the group provides, which would move the shelter and play area north.

Park Board member Vickie Anderson said she saw more parental value in relocating the new amenities, which would put restrooms closer to existing play areas on the west side of the park.

“I like the practicality in it,” she said, adding that the city could look at adding another shelter and play area near the pool in the future, if community need increases.

Nigbur said the community co-designers offered the alternative with the understanding that several Rochester City Council members oppose changing the golf course.

“They were very logical and methodical on what they put forward,” he said, pointing out they don’t want to see progress stall if their preferred plan is rejected.

Preferred concept 1.jpg
A preferred concept design for a new Soldiers Field aquatics park was reviewed by the Rochester Park Board Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023.
Contributed / City of Rochester

Park Board member Marty Cormack said he knows some of the community members involved in preparing the proposal, which is why he opposed the alternative option.

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“They are people I trust, so I would go with their preferred option,” he said, joining Park Board President Linnea Archer in voting to support the group’s initial proposal.

There is little difference in the pool areas between the two plans, but Nigbur said moving the shelter will increase the cost of the estimated $20 million project by approximately $60,000 to extend sewer services to the new site.

He also pointed out that final costs won’t be known until a final plan is developed, which could be as early as March, with construction planned for this year and opening scheduled for 2024.

He said final details will emerge through the planning process, which could address some concerns voiced by community members, including Rochester Swimming Inc. President Bill Shaughnessy, who wrote an email to park staff, raising concerns about the proposals.

He called for a larger splash pad and wading pool area, a shorter lazy river feature, the elimination of tube slides and a diving board, the addition of climbing walls and additional lanes for the lap pool.

Additionally, he said plans for the bathhouse should be altered to eliminate a lower level, due to the potential for flooding and added maintenance concerns.

“The ‘new bathhouse’ should be single story at grade and be larger to accommodate entry and all locker/shower/restroom facilities,” he wrote.

Nigbur said such suggestions could be considered in the final design, but the goal is to meet community needs that go beyond a single group, which is why diverse representation was sought in the community members that helped develop the proposals.

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“There is a finite pool of money,” he said. “How do you balance all the different desires and make everything work.”

The final decision on which concept to move forward will be in the hands of the Rochester City Council at a future meeting.


What happened: The Rochester Park Board voted 4-2 to recommend approval of a concept for a new aquatic center in Soldiers Field Park.

Why does this matter: The recommended plan will avoid a need for changes at the nearby golf course while adding a variety of water features to the park.

What's next: The Rochester City Council will have final; approval of a concept before final designs are created.


Randy Petersen joined the Post Bulletin in 2014 and became the local government reporter in 2017. An Elkton native, he's worked for a variety of Midwest papers as reporter, photographer and editor since graduating from Winona State University in 1996. Readers can reach Randy at 507-285-7709 or rpetersen@postbulletin.com.
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