With the city’s 43-year old pool deteriorating, Farmington’s City Council decided last week to put it out to pasture after next summer, potentially replacing it with a kiddie “splash pad.”
“The pool we have now is dying a fast death,” said Mayor Todd Larson. He supported holding a bond referendum for a new pool. The potential price tag was $7.2 million, but that was too steep for the city council.
Instead it has instructed city staff to plan on the pool closing after next summer’s swimming season, which runs June to August.
In the meantime, said parks director Randy Distad, the council will potentially add money to next year’s budget for a survey in early 2015 that would gauge residents’ appetites for higher taxes to build a pool.
Under estimates for a potential bond referendum this November — now nixed — residents with a $200,000 home would have paid up to $70 more in property taxes each year for the next 20 years. If additional water park features were added, the increase could be another $15 to $30 each year.
The council also decided it was too expensive to repair the pool. It would have cost $1 million to extend its life another three years.
There were no good options, and even the kiddie splash pad, after construction, will only cost $10,000 less per year to run than the current swimming pool. The splash pad won’t draw younger kids, and Larson said its free admission could take away customers from a future water park if one is built.
The plans for the water park started bubbling up in late 2012, when city staff told council members the current pool was near its end.
Last fall the city formed a Pool Committee and hired Delano-based USAquatics, a design consultant, to study the city’s options. That included a new pool with two water slides and room to expand into a full-fledged water park. Space for a future 50-meter competition pool was also penciled in.
The most ambitious plan, with add-ons such as a lazy river and an overhanging climbing wall, reflected the city’s desire to have something unique to keep and draw in nearby residents who now go to water parks in Apple Valley and Eagan.
A new pool would stand a chance to draw residents beyond the city, too. Steve Skinner, who manages Apple Valley’s water park, said it draws people from as far away as Faribault or Owatonna.
If voters had approved a bond referendum to fund the pool — which is proposed to be built on existing parkland closer to the bulk of the city’s development — the city’s demographics indicate that the new pool would siphon some of the traffic back to Farmington.
The city has 28 percent more children under high school age as a percentage of population than the state, and 40 percent more adults aged 25-44, according to data from the American Community Survey.
The current pool, bordering fields on the far south edge of town, was built when Farmington was a relative hamlet of 3,000.
Today, most of its 21,000 people live on the north side, closer to Lakeville and Apple Valley, which has a much newer, much larger water park not much further than the trip across Farmington. Attendance at the pool has faced a “slow decline” partly for that reason, said staff from USAquatics.
Opposition to higher taxes was one objection raised by constituents against the pool plan, said Larson. Others included residents who wanted sports fields and a concession stand, planned on the same parkland as the potential pool, to be built at the same time instead of waiting until later.
Another resident told Larson that instead of building a water park like other cities, Farmington should do something really unique to draw new people in: What about a man-made lake?
Larson liked that idea, until he learned that you can’t build man-made lakes in Minnesota anymore.
Some residents near the parkland are worried that it would be dangerous to bring more traffic to their residential-only neighborhood.
But even in that neighborhood, just as many residents are for the pool as against it, said Nikki Greene, mentioning a friend who lives there.
An economic need?
On a recent, baking afternoon at the pool, Greene was hanging out poolside with her sons, 4 and 7, between open swim and swimming lessons. They recently moved to Hampton, but her boys play baseball in Farmington and come to the pool five times a week. She went to high school in Farmington, and she wants kids today to have something to do in town.
Like many Facebook commenters responding to a newspaper story on the pool, Greene, a pharmacy technician, also mentioned an economic need for the pool.
“We’ve got so many schools and kids,” she said, “and you need something substantial to keep the revenue in town.”
“If you’re going to keep growing, you’ve got to keep up with the Joneses.”
Graison Hensley Chapman is a Northfield freelance writer.