Eden Prairie has long sought to upgrade its aging community pool. But past public requests for funding haven’t gotten enough taxpayer support.

Now, the city says the upgrades to the 30-year-old pool are overdue and, with a growing population of seniors and children, a second one is needed to keep up with increasing demand. The city has drafted plans for a $16.5 million renovation that would replace the pool, built in 1983, and add a second recreation pool. On Tuesday, the City Council was expected to approve hiring an architect to draft the preliminary designs.

“It’s kind of an embarrassment that we haven’t gotten the pool up to the standards of our park and rec facilities,” Mayor Nancy Tyra-Lukens said in an interview last week. “It really doesn’t meet anyone’s needs. Something needs to be done.”

In neighboring Minnetonka, the city renovated its fitness center in 2010 for $4.5 million, which included a new $500,000 six-lane lap pool and zero-depth (gradual-entry) pool. In Edina, the city’s aquatic center saved up money to install last year a more than $1 million surfing pool in hopes of appealing to more teenagers.

“People’s expectations of the quality of what’s provided is growing,” said Jay Lotthammer, director of the Eden Prairie Parks and Recreation Department. “This isn’t a case of ‘if we build it, they will come’ … the demand is already there.”

Mixed reaction

On Tuesday, the City Council was expected to approve a contract with HGA Architects for about $243,000 to design the plans. The city’s preliminary plan includes a new 12-lane lap swim pool with a diving area and climbing wall. If the city approves construction bids next January or February, construction on the lap pool could start in spring 2014 as a new addition to the center. The current pool could stay open at the same time.

The second phase, a recreational pool with a zero-depth entry area and water slide, would be installed in the current pool’s space and could start construction in 2015 when the lap pool opens. The project also includes additional locker rooms, seating and storage.

“This plan really has something for many different types of pool users,” Lotthammer said.

Replacing the pool is a necessity, Lotthammer said, because of about $1 million worth of roof, ceiling, mechanical and other repairs needed to bring it up to code. And a waiting list for swimming lessons and the pool being at capacity year-round show there’s a demand for even more space.

That’s especially true for the swimming club, Team Foxjet, which uses the pool almost every day each week for practices. The growing program, with more than 300 swimmers, could have more practice time and flexibility with their schedules if the current eight-lane pool was upgraded.

“We’re really only constrained by the amount of practice time we have,” said Foxjet board president Mark Davis, adding that the team will help fundraise for the pool. “This would be really significant for our program.”

Failed referendums

Other residents have voiced concern about the project’s price tag on the city’s online feedback site and in local newspapers. But upgrading the pool has long been contentious in Eden Prairie.

In 2005, voters rejected a $3.3 million referendum question to upgrade the community pool after a controversial $22 million referendum for park improvements and an outdoor water park failed the year before. Voters did pass in 2005, however, a $13.3 million referendum for park and trail improvements, which included community center upgrades.

Those upgrades, made in 2008, allowed the community center to add a third sheet of ice and double the square footage of the facility with added meeting rooms, remodeled locker rooms, a new fitness center and fitness studios.

As a result, center memberships have skyrocketed — now nearly five times higher than in 2007. That’s helped the center narrow its deficit; the gap between operating costs and revenue has closed from $1 million before 2008 to $100,000 this year. The new pools could continue to drive up revenue, with Lotthammer estimating that after the renovations, the center would break even or turn a profit.

Tyra-Lukens said it hasn’t been decided for sure this year that the city won’t seek a referendum, but it wouldn’t need to if the project could be funded through revenue bonds. Besides bonds, Lotthammer added, they’ll look at fundraising and naming rights. Membership fees also could go up 3 percent.

In the meantime, Tyra-Lukens said, the city is working to increase awareness over just how much the pool is used by residents across the city.

“It’s totally inadequate to fit our needs,” she said. “[A renovation is] something that’s long, long overdue.”