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Rochester pools reopen with added help, ground rules

Community engagement and registration requirements are among changes at the two outdoor city pools.

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So-Yeon Smith of Rochester climbs into one of the water slides at Soldiers Field Monday, June 14, 2021. Both Rochester pools are now open. (Ken Klotzbach / kklotzbach@postbulletin.com)

Milan Wiertzema said registering his granddaughter, Avaia, at the Soldiers Field Park pool Monday was easy.

“It went pretty good,” the Rochester resident said of being walked through the process on his smartphone.

While his other granddaughter, Riley, was registered for swimming lessons, Avaia needed to be registered when they arrived at the pool, and staff was able to use his phone to get her signed in.

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Ben Boldt, the city’s recreation supervisor, said anyone who wants to use either of the city's two public pools must go online to reserve a spot at www.teamunify.com/team/mnrsco/page/locations/summer-pools.
While admission is free, registration helps keep track of users in case of a COVID-19 outbreak and the need to contact them.

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The city’s pools at Soldiers Field and Silver Lake reopened for public swims at noon Monday, following a five-day closure to establish a plan to deal with safety concerns that emerged after the Soldiers Field pool opened June 5 with free admission amid a heatwave.

Autumn Kappes, CEO of Rochester Swim Club Orcas, which staffs the two pools, said she anticipates the changes, along with cooler weather, will keep things under control.

In the first hour of swimming Monday, city officials cited marked improvements compared to activities that led to a police response nearly a week earlier.

“It’s nice not to have to turn people away,” said Paul Widman, director of Rochester Parks and Recreation.

Part of the change in process including enlisting staff and community members to engage with pool users.

So far, Project Legacy is the only community group actively manning the open-swim times. Starting Tuesday, Executive Director Karen Edmonds said the nonprofit will have people at both pools whenever they are open to the public.

“Youth outreach is what we do,” she said, noting the group has been taking local kids to the pools for 15 years.

Reaching out to help engage people and de-escalate potential trouble was a natural response for the group.

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Rochester Mayor Kim Norton said she’s talked with other groups and individuals that have expressed interest in helping maintain the poolside peace.

“We’ve had people reach out,” she said.

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Soldier's Field pool opens up again Monday June 14, 2021. (Ken Klotzbach / kklotzbach@postbulletin.com)

Project Legacy program coordinator Alysha Carlisle said the goal of the outreach is to engage with the teens and others to make sure they feel valued and welcome at the pool, while also offering alternatives to disruptive behaviors.

Kappes said the added help is appreciated, but also noted that last week's problems weren’t solely caused by teenagers. She said lifeguards also had problems with younger swimmers and parents who didn’t appear to want to follow the rules.

She said one of the biggest concerns was parents who didn’t stay at the pool with their children, which has caused the city to raise the required age to be accompanied by an adult from 12 to 13.

Several other rules are outlined on the pool registration site, including:

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  • Requiring more than one adult with groups of more than six children.

  • Considering anyone in the pool or pool area without a reservation or outside of public hours to be trespassing. Law enforcement will be contacted.

  • Banning alcohol, tobacco, vapes and drugs on the premises.

  • Banning profanity at any time.

  • Allowing only a single warning from lifeguards or management before a patron can be asked to leave.

Widman said outlining the rules, along with added engagement from city staff and community members, is intended to help keep the pools running smoothly for the upcoming months.
“It’s a more positive experience,” he said of conditions Monday afternoon.

While Silver Lake and Soldiers Field pools are currently limited to 300 patrons each, Kappes said the numbers could be tweaked, depending on how the season progresses.

Heading into Monday's re-opening, the Soldiers Field pool had approximately 175 noon slots remaining open and the Silver Lake pool had more than 250 slots available.

At 2:30 p.m., Soldiers Field had 106 spots available for the 2:45 p.m. session and Silver Lake had 253.

Kappes said swimmers are able to sign up for back-to-back sessions, but will need to leave the pool for the scheduled 30-minute break, which will allow for a safe transition and time to sanitize areas in the two facilities.

Slots are available seven days a week from noon to 2:15 p.m., 2:45 p.m. to 5 p.m., and 5:30 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. at Soldiers Field, and noon to 2:15 p.m. and 2:45 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Silver Lake.

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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