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Rochester pools will reopen Monday

Plan calls for added help to address safety concerns that led to closing of open-swim activities.

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A Rochester swim club conducts practice in the Soldier's Field pool Wednesday morning, June 9, 2021. (Ken Klotzbach / kklotzbach@postbulletin.com)
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Rochester's two city pools are expected to reopen for public swims Monday, six days after activity was limited because of safety concerns.

“We look forward to welcoming the community back and ask that everyone help us by following the guidelines and rules,” Rochester Park and Recreation Director Paul Widman said. “Safety is our top priority.”

Open-swim slots at the pools at Soldiers Field and Silver Lake parks were closed Wednesday, following a series of safety issues at the Soldiers Field pool, which opened Saturday.

RELATED: Free swimming turned into a free-for-all: Why Rochester pools shut down in the middle of a heat wave

“It’s a whole array of things,” said Autumn Kappes, CEO of Rochester Swim Club Orcas, which has managed the city pools in recent years. “I would say it’s blatant disrespect of staff and patrons of the pool. ”

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Unsafe activities reportedly included fights, pushing, children being left unattended, lack of attention to the lifeguards and general disregard for pool rules. Kappes said they involved patrons of all age groups and demographics.

Park and Recreation staff, along with other city departments, have developed a plan to address the concerns that had arisen.

The plan includes using additional staff and volunteers to help monitor activities outside of the water.

Kappes said the Orcas had to double the number of lifeguards on duty at Soldiers Field as crowds grew to 550 Saturday and Sunday, drawn by free admission and warm weather.

She said the lifeguards typically handle all aspects of pool operations, from registering users in case a COVID-19 outbreak occurs to watching the water.

“Most of them are adults, and it’s been overwhelming for all of them,” she said of the staff that was about to be spread over two pools with Wednesday's planned opening of the Silver Lake pool.

In addition to city staff, community organizations have offered to visit the pools and interact with participants in an effort to help control activity, and the Rochester Police Department’s school resource officers visit the pools throughout the summer to interact with the youth and families.

Kappes said one of the keys to pool safety will be making sure a parent or another adult is with children 13 and younger.

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“The biggest thing to get across is that parents have to come with their kids,” she said.

Ben Boldt, the city’s recreation supervisor, said the added staff and community attention became necessary after lifeguards became uncomfortable with what was happening at the pool leading up to Tuesday when some people were climbing the fence after being refused admission because capacity had been lowered.

“They were feeling anxious that something bad was going to happen in the pool. There’s just that extra layer of danger -- for lack of a better word -- with water,” he said.

When the pools reopen, the maximum capacity will be set at 300 for each location.

Registration for both pools is required, with open-swim slots available for specific time periods at each pool -- 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.

Registering online in advance is recommended. To register, click the following link for the preferred slot start time and pool:

The registration links offer openings for the time slot for the next two weeks, and more information and pool rules are available on the swim club website .

Anyone who needs assistance with registering can call the Parks and Recreation department at 507-328-2525.

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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