Construction has started on one of Eden Prairie's largest recreation projects in recent years — a $20.9 million renovation and addition to the city's Community Center.
After years of planning and failed public funding requests, the project to replace the center's 30-year-old pool and add two eight-lane lap pools is underway, with crews working this summer on a 32,000-square-foot addition.
The work began in June after the City Council unanimously approved the project May 6, signing off on construction bids to RJM Construction. While some residents spoke out against the project and urged a referendum, the city said a public vote wasn't needed and reiterated that the renovation was necessary to fix an aging facility and meet growing pool demand.
"I think it's going to be a tremendous asset to the community," Mayor Nancy Tyra-Lukens said in an interview last week. "We've been hearing about the need for a new pool for 12-15 years."
It's long been a contentious project in Eden Prairie, with the community rejecting past public funding requests. In the past year, some residents have criticized the lack of a public vote and blasted the project for coming in over preliminary estimates thanks to more detailed designs, added amenities and space.
"For some reason, the pool just resonated with people as something that isn't necessary," Tyra-Lukens said. "There was a small minority that was against it. [But most] people were very in favor."
Earlier estimates called for two pools and renovations costing $16.5 million. Added fitness space, doubled spectator seating, a hot tub and reworking one 12-lane lap pool into two eight-lane lap pools boosted the price tag to about $19 million. Then in May, the City Council approved alternate designs, putting the project at $20.9 million; the largest alternate was for a $1.3 million water slide, which includes a small pool to drop into.
"They are extras that will have a young family say, 'I want to join the community center,' " Tyra-Lukens said. She added that the amenities could attract families to Eden Prairie, while the lap pools can host swim meets and competitions.
As of now, Jay Lotthammer, the director of the city's Parks and Recreation department, said the center has to turn away swimmers and has a waiting list for lessons because there's not enough room in the current pool.
"Now is the time to do [a renovation] at the best cost and value," he said.
The project will be funded with $2.5 million to $3 million from the city's capital improvement fund, $17.1 million in tax abatement bonds and $500,000 from the Foxjets swimming club. The city had applied for a Hennepin County grant of $325,000, but didn't receive it. Lotthammer says much of the city's existing debt is being paid off, so the pool project wouldn't increase taxes.
During construction on the addition, the current pool will stay open. In April, the two lap pools will open while the old pool is demolished to start the second phase — a recreational pool with a zero-depth entry.
"It's unique," Lotthammer said of the project. "This is one of the only [city pools] designed by the community for the community."