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Soldiers Field Park's $10 million pool proposal part of discussion on golf course, Silver Lake pool

Rochester City Council members and residents cite concern about proposal to take space from Soldiers Field Golf Course to meet community calls for larger aquatics facility.

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A proposed update to the Soldiers Field Park master plan calls for enlarging the footprint of the city pool with the addition of other water features.
Post Bulletin file photo
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ROCHESTER — The proposed Soldiers Field Park master plan update calls for doubling the pool facility’s size, which would encroach on the nearby city golf course, but the final picture remains uncertain.

“These elements are something that would be investigated as the next step in the process,” said Rita Trapp, an associate with Minneapolis-based HKGI, a consultant hired to update the existing master plan.

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The plan proposes a combination of splash pads and play pools, lounging areas and a lazy river alongside a new 50-meter lap pool and renovated bath house.

Mike Nigbur, Rochester’s Parks and Forestry Division head, said the proposed framework of the design presented to the Rochester City Council and Park Board is subject to change when reviewed by a local group chosen to help plan the actual aquatic features.

That plan will determine how much, if any, of the existing golf course space is needed, and any modifications to the course will likely be covered by the $10 million planned for pool-related facilities.
Rochester City Council members and others have questioned whether any of the added space is needed.

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“The people I know in aquatics and are familiar with aquatics are very happy with the size of aquatics right now,” council member Shaun Palmer said. “They don’t see where it has to be expanded right now. The footprint works for everything you just suggested they needed.”

Bill Shaughnessy, president of Rochester Swimming Inc., echoed the sentiment during a public hearing held Tuesday. He said the group that advocates for swimming and diving programs in the city is united in the belief that the proposed design for a new pool and added aquatic elements exceeds needs.

Several council members voiced a desire to maintain 18 holes at the golf course.

“The reason for this is not that we don’t support swimming and diving and the need for aquatics facilities, but we respect our neighbors and we want the golfers in our community to be our friends and neighbors and not our adversaries,” he said of proposing the plan be scaled back.

He, along with several council members, cited a preference to see a smaller Soldiers Field aquatics facility adopted and a new pool project added to proposed Silver Lake Park revisions.

“We believe we need a second pool here in Rochester,” he said.

Public hearing seeking comments on city-run golf saw majority of voices seeking to maintain four courses, with many speakers stating they would be willing to pay more.

The proposed Silver Lake Park master plan calls for eventually closing the existing pool and replacing it with splash pad amenities that would not require lifeguards and could be open to the public without cost.

Council member Mark Bransford said the proposal is unacceptable, pointing to the Silver Lake pool’s use by the city’s AccessABLE Recreation, which serves people with developmental disabilities.

“You cannot bus those kids to Soldiers Field,” said the council member, whose daughter participates in the summer program. “It’s too disruptive, and it takes too much time away from their programming.”

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Roy Sutherland, a former Rochester Parks and Recreation superintendent, said he attempted to close the Silver Lake pool 25 years ago due to the condition of the aging site and lack of use, but he doesn’t support the current proposals.

“I don’t understand, if we have two pools, one is in much better shape than the other, so we are going to fix up the one that is in much better shape,” he told the current park board. “If the city has made the decision to close one of the pools, maybe that makes sense, but my sense is that decision has not been made.”

The proposal to shut down the Silver Lake pool and expand the Soldiers Field facility stems from the Parks and Recreation system plan developed in 2015 and 2016, which was the product of community input regarding residents’ expectations.

Nigbur said swimming advocates have cited a desire for an improved facility so Rochester residents don’t need to travel to other communities for similar amenities.

“While many folks do want the community to provide two or more pools, the conversations around the pool amenities have strong and broad sentiments toward providing higher quality and more amenities at Soldiers (Field Park) and not having a scaled-down version or even the same type of amenities that currently exist,” he said.

City Council President Brooke Carlson said she understands the sentiment.

“I am not a solid ‘no’ about expanding the pool (at Silver Lake Park), but I’m leaning toward something that would have the water aquatics features but make sure we have a fantastic facility at Soldiers Field,” she said, citing cost concerns related to operating and maintaining two full pools.

Additionally, she pointed to the potential for an indoor recreational pool as part of a proposed $65 million regional community or recreational complex, which could be funded by an extended state sales tax, if approved by state lawmakers and local voters.

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The potential cost for a two-pool option remains uncertain, but Kari Spiegelhalter, a senior urban ecological designer for Asaukura Robinson, which was contracted to help create the Silver Lake Park master plan, said it would add likely millions to the $14 million to $17.5 million price for the proposed Silver Lake Park update.

“We just finished a pool that is a little smaller than that, and it costs about $3.5 million to build,” she said.

Nigbur said it's unclear whether some of the proposed $18.5 million in funding for Soldiers Field Park improvements could be shifted to a Silver Lake pool project.

The Soldiers Field Park proposal calls for $10 million from state Destination Medical Center funding, which would not currently be allowed for use in Silver Lake Park, since it sits outside the DMC district. The state DMC Corp. board and City Council would need to agree to redefine the district.

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Another $5 million federal grant can only be used for specified projects within Soldiers Field Park, which leaves up to $3.5 million in city tax-levy funding with potential flexibility.

“With the grant funding and expectations set forth around the content and required grant match a reduction of amenities for aquatics would need to be reviewed in light of the grant award,” Nigbur said, pointing to the possible need for the city funds to be required as a match for the federal funds.

The Rochester Parks Board is slated to review plans for the Soldiers Field and Silver Lake parks during its meeting on Oct. 4. If the Soldiers Field Park plan update is approved, added discussions of pool design are expected to start.

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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