Silver Lake pool reopening on track
Park Board votes to back plan initiated by Rochester City Council.
Unanimous Rochester City Council support for reopening the Silver Lake Park pool was met with a more tepid response from the city’s Park Board on Tuesday.
“It’s a one-year fix,” said Park Board President Linnea Archer. “We are not really fixing Silver Lake pool, we are just opening it up with duct tape and Band-Aids so it is open.”
Following a 95-minute discussion, the Park Board voted 4-1 to support a plan adopted by the City Council’s proposal to spend $95,000 to reopen and operate the pool that has been closed since the end of the 2019 season.
Parks and Recreation Director Paul Widman said the funding will open and operate the pool for a single season, but won’t cover upgrades or repairs if there is a serious breakdown of equipment.
“It will be in the same condition it was two years ago when we opened the doors,” he said.
Under the council's plan, $45,000 will come from its contingency fund to support operations, and the Park Board will contribute $50,000 to cover anticipated maintenance and repairs.
On Tuesday, the board determined its share will come from $100,000 earmarked for creating a long-range plan for Silver Lake Park after the funds were no longer needed for annual pool expenses.
Board member Dick Dale, who represents the city ward that includes Silver Lake Park, said he thinks shifting the funds is appropriate to keep the pool open for another year.
“I understand it’s a Band-Aid fix,” he added.
What happened: The Rochester City Council and Park Board have agreed on a $95,000 plan to reopen the pool in Silver Lake Park.
Why does this matter: The pool was closed last year with no plans to reopen.
What's next: Work will start on repairs needed to reopen the pool as city staff works on a proposal that could fund free admission at the city’s two pools for the summer.
Board member Angela Gupta cast the sole vote against the plan, saying she has not heard any support from residents of Ward 2, which she represents.
“It’s not a good investment,” she said, pointing to limited users — averaging 71 daily — in the years before the pool was closed.
Board members Dan Veith and Kaia Yngve abstained from the vote after citing mixed feelings about the reopening the pool, especially with uncertainty related to a City Council proposal to waive all admission fees.
Veith suggested delaying the decision until after Gov. Tim Walz announces plans for lifting some COVID restrictions on Thursday, which could affect allowable numbers at the city’s two pools.
Widman said a delay would be problematic.
“If we are going to open the pools, we need to get to work,” he said, noting that staff need to start work on repairs and the Rochester Swim Club is already working to hire staff for operations.
Additionally, he said the city administration and council need time to determine whether free admission can be supported.
While he told the council Monday it would cost at least $60,000, Widman raised the estimate to $70,000 on Tuesday, citing the $64,000 to $68,000 in collected fees at the two pools in recent years and the potential for added staff and lifeguards if the change increases activity.
“Obviously, we feel it will bring more people out to the pool,” he said, adding that current COVID restrictions will limit occupancy to approximately 200 people in the Soldiers Field pool and 140 at the Silver Lake site, based on pool size and deck area.
The decision to reopen the Silver Lake pool after the city announced it would be permanently closed last year stems from a community push for the city to invest more in water-related activities. The drive by a group called Let Them Swim included an online petition with 1,300 signatures.
Widman said the city is already headed toward investing more in aquatic features under its 2016 Parks and Recreation System Plan, which calls for the Soldiers Field pool to be replaced with a new lap pool and children’s activity area, while the Silver Lake pool is slated to be replaced by a yet-to-be-determined interactive water feature.
Park Board member Chad Ramaker said he believes the effort needs more focus. He said the lack of a clear timeline for upgrades and installations has increased community concerns and spurred calls for last-minute changes.
“This is where we are today and why we are in the position we’re in,” he said.
Widman said as work starts to reopen the Silver Lake pool, he’ll take the Park Board’s request for $70,000 to cover free admission to the city administrator and they’ll prepare a proposal for the council.
On Monday, council members suggested the cost could be covered by a portion of the $17.5 million the city expects to receive through the federal American Rescue Plan.