Como Park pool beyond repair; no plans to reopen next spring

  • Article by: KEVIN GILES , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 23, 2008 - 11:34 PM

The city of St. Paul plans to hold a meeting to hear what the community wants. Residents' concern: Overdevelopment.

The deteriorating Como Pool, a destination for swimmers in St. Paul's well-known regional park since 1962, has closed for good because of safety problems and high repair costs.

It hasn't been determined when another pool might be built to replace it, said Brad Meyer, a spokesman for the St. Paul Parks Department.

"The Como Pool has needed renovations and repairs for umpteen years," Meyer said. "If we tried to open it again, it would be over $1 million just to get it operational."

Until it closed in September, the outdoor pool attracted 15,000 swimmers a summer, many of whom live in the neighborhoods that surround Como Regional Park in northwest St. Paul. Because of mechanical and electrical problems, the city decided the pool can't be operated safely, Meyer said.

"All sides agree that something needs to be done," said Rhonda DeBough, community organizer for the District 10 neighborhood council that serves the Como area. Residents, she said, have considerable interest in "not just the pool but what will come of it," and want to share their concerns on matters ranging from how a new pool should be built to solve growing traffic and parking problems.

They will get their chance at a community meeting Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at the park's visitor center auditorium.

Como Pool was built for $161,000 by a private firm, Public Pools Inc., that operated it on land leased from the city until 1965 when the firm went out of business. The city then bought the pool for $15,000.

"The infrastructure is so old that doing any kind of repairs, even major repairs, would be like throwing money away," Meyer said. "A full renovation is necessary."

"It's definitely going to be painful to people who swim there regularly," said Russ Stark, a City Council member who represents the ward around the pool. "It's been a great community asset for a long time, overdue to be replaced. It's literally duct-taped and patched together to keep it going the last few years."

The city intends that a new pool be a neighborhood attraction rather than a regional one and that neighborhood parking concerns be addressed, Stark said.

DeBough said that traffic in recent summers has overwhelmed neighborhood streets, both from swimmers walking to the pool and visitors to the park, zoo and conservatory. Neighbors want to work with the city to find a solution, she said. "Nobody's saying, 'Shut the door, we don't want that pool.' "

Susan Janda, a member of Como Park Alliance, said neighbors want to be sure that Como Park isn't overdeveloped and that green space remains in the park area surrounding the pool.

"What the neighbors are really concerned about is Como Park in its natural beauty being piece-mealed by construction," she said. "We all love being near the park and we know that people love the park but we don't want to be loved to death."

The alliance is collecting public comment on the pool issue in an online survey. For more information go to www.comoparkalliance.org/ourprojects.html.

Kevin Giles • 651-298-1554

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