Design concepts for a proposed new outdoor pool in Litchfield are in the hands of city leaders. Now, they’re going to ask residents what they think about spending millions to build one.

The Litchfield City Council looked over several outdoor pool concepts at its March 19 meeting to consider if they’d be feasible in the near future.

The concepts were developed by U.S. Aquatics, a company that has designed swimming pools and water parks in several rural Minnesota cities. The concepts featured a Z-shaped deep-water diving and four-lane pool, bath house, concession stand and a shallow-water children’s area that could be constructed in Memorial Park near Lake Ripley, adjacent to a new splash pad that will be installed this summer.

The only location discussed at the meeting was Memorial Park, with councilors suggesting that the splash pad and proposed pool facilities could share infrastructure. Council members voted 5-2, with councilors Michael Boyle and Vernon Loch opposed, to obtain public opinion on the concept and to have staff finalize a location for the splash pad that would compliment an outdoor pool.

Councilors also expressed, on a 6-1 vote, with Boyle opposed, seeking possible state capital funding to aid the project. “That’s a long shot,” Councilor Ron Dingmann conceded.

U.S. Aquatics representative Tom Schaefer estimated that the concept would cost approximately $2.9 to $3.1 million to build, depending on which of several alternatives is desired.

Schaefer estimated that pool operations would cost approximately $250,000 per year, which could be offset by admission fees, concession sales and facility rentals. The cost of debt service would also need to be factored in, he said.

At previous council meetings, city officials conceded that the most the city could afford to finance without raising property taxes would be in the neighborhood of $4 million. By contrast, a full-fledged wellness and recreation center with a six-lane indoor pool could cost closer to $12 million — a figure the city could not manage to build and finance on its own.

Such a facility would require contributions and management from other entities, such as the school district, hospital and possibly other health care providers, grants or civic groups. Those potential partners have indicated in past sessions with city officials that they are more interested in a larger, indoor pool facility that could accommodate competitive swimming and/or therapy.

Schaefer indicated that, if a future council so desired, an outdoor pool could be covered at a future date if appropriate footings were installed at the time it is built. A covering could extend the swimming season or even be year round if the bath house is insulated. But the concepts presented were for a four-lane pool, not a six-lane pool that the school would need.

Schaefer indicated that his operational cost estimates included items such as staffing, chemicals and heating pools to 82 and 85 degrees. His revenue estimates were based on a conservative 78 days of use between Memorial and Labor Day weekends.

“This is conceptual and does not come with a recommendation,” City Administrator Dave Cziok said.

“In less than a month, we’ve gone from a health and wellness center to an outdoor pool,” said Councilor Mike Boyle, explaining his votes against an outdoor pool project. “This is a big jump. If we go ahead with an outdoor pool, this has ramifications with the school district. We also need some figure for debt service … I’m reluctant to put this out to the public.”

The city’s only public pool is inside Litchfield High School. Open swim is offered there for a nominal fee.

SHELTER COULD BE ADDED TO WATER FEATURE COMPLEX

Another amenity could be added to a future water feature complex at Memorial Park. The American Legion is interested in building a picnic shelter at that location, representative Dave Jutz told the City Council.

Besides providing a spot for groups to reserve for events, a shelter would be helpful during Watercade and Wintercade activities at the popular lakeside park, Jutz noted. The proposed site would probably be closer to the highway, he said, away from the immediate splash pad area, but still convenient. The shelter could potentially include a concessions stand available to both park and splash pad users.

Mayor Keith Johnson, and the council, directed Jutz to talk to the city administrator and asked to let the pool/water feature discussion “simmer a little” before proceeding.

Jutz expressed willingness to wait until the council decides where it might locate any future water features before moving forward. “I will tell the Legion to wait for your direction,” he said.

— Amy Wilde covers City Council for the Independent Review.

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