New water playground will replace old pool in Cottage Grove

  • Article by: JOY POWELL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 17, 2011 - 5:38 PM

Cottage Grove is building a splash pad that will replace an aging municipal pool.

Cottage Grove will soon join the growing list of Minnesota cities that have installed a splash pad -- an increasingly popular form of public recreation that sprays or bubbles water.

And to do that, the city will let its money-sucking old municipal pool go dry.

The pool has been draining the city each year of $50,000 to $100,000 in losses, said Zac Dockter, parks and recreation director. Over the past 15 years, that's added up to more than a $1 million cost to taxpayers.

Built in 1962, the aging pool has no slides or zero-depth entry, and it's on a site too small for renovations. It's west of Hwy 61, in an older part of town, and many people don't even know it's there. The city's had a hard time marketing it, Dockter said.

The new $461,000 splash pad is going to be in the heart of the city, just off a thoroughfare, 70th Street, between Hinton and Jamaica Avenues.

Beginning next July, water will flow in three "pods," with one for toddlers, one for families, and one for teens, the latter complete with water cannons and other interactive gear.

"Kids have been playing in water fountains forever, but now it's become a more intricate design of that, where it's got play components and more interactive water features like spray guns or dumping buckets or different things that the kids can actually interact with," Dockter said.

Splash pads have been popping up in communities for a decade, but really took off in the past four or five years, Dockter said. They reduce labor and maintenance costs compared to pools, he said.

"You get the water play experience. It's really interactive. But at the same time, the maintenance costs are minimal compared to pools," he said.

"You don't have to have lifeguards, you don't have the intense water treatment that you'd have with a pool. And then the operating systems are very simple compared to that of a pool."

A cheaper alternative

Around the nation, local governments have been shutting down public pools. Minnesota has held onto many of its pools, but from St. Cloud to Robbinsdale, money-strapped cities are beginning to opt for splash pads at a fraction of the price.

"We had a pool that was under-utilized with declining revenues, declining usage, and we've been trying to figure out how to meet the community's aquatic recreational needs, because the pool didn't seem to be doing that," Dockter said. "This seems to be a feature that will cover the needs of kids and families to play in water."

The return on the investment will be five to eight years, Dockter said.

The same set of users won't gravitate from pools to the splash pads, but Cottage Grove officials anticipate significant increases in water recreation by kids with adults, or by runners cooling off in the mists, for example.

The splash pad will be free and open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. along with other park amenities, including picnic tables and trails.

At the splash pad site, restorations are newly completed on a 1984 parks building, with updated bathrooms accessible now from outside. There is space for people to change in and out of swimsuits to use the splash pad.

"This is going to be a pretty large one," Dockter said of the splash pad, "and we think it's going to be a draw beyond the borders of Cottage Grove."

Joy Powell • 651-925-5038

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