Litchfield City Council agreed June 1 with City Administrator David Cziok’s assessment that conditions were not right for the splash pad at Lake Ripley to open.
The topic came up during a review of the city’s COVID-19 pandemic response, when Councilor Darlene Kotelnicki said of all the questions she’s received, “the big one is the splash pad.”
The League of Minnesota Cities has recommended that cities with municipal pools not open them this summer, Kotelnicki acknowledged, but the splash pad seems to be a different situation with “no standing water” and “a lot of movement.”
“There is a strong desire in our community to get that open,” Kotelnicki said.
Cziok agreed that “100 percent, the public does want to see it open.” And, while administration isn’t ready to say the splash pad is closed for the summer, it also is not prepared to plan an opening, he said.
Litchfield’s splash pad recycles the water that sprays through the various attractions, Cziok said, and therefore is classified by the state as a pool.
The other main issue, Cziok said, was capacity at the splash pad.
“There are times in which there are a lot of people crammed into that splash pad,” he said. “That is not a safe environment in a pandemic.”
Stationing a police officer or some other city employee at the splash pad to regulate the number of users also might not be a good use of city resources, he said. And even with all possible precautions taken, if the attraction is overrun by users, it’s likely the city would be forced to close it again.
“I don’t want to do it until we know it’s safe,” Cziok said.
Councilors Betty Allen and Eric Mathwig both said they had heard from people in their wards who wanted to see the splash pad open, as well, with Allen offering the oft-repeated argument that “if you don’t think it’s safe you don’t have to go.”
Councilor Sarah Miller said she’s encountered “a lot of frustrated people in general” about the pandemic, including those who want people to wear face coverings, as suggested by the Centers for Disease Control, “not for themselves but for others that have health issues.”
It’s that concern that guided her so far, Miller said, despite the fact that she has four children who want to get outside and enjoy the summer.
“It is going to be very difficult to keep it (splash pad use) down to a number of people that is safe,” Miller said. “It’s a tough one. It really is. I understand why people want it open, but I think we need to be very cautious.”
It is the City Council’s responsibility, Miller said, to keep employees safe and to be leaders in promoting safe health practices like social distancing during the pandemic.