Pool envy in Shakopee as neighbors up the ante on amenities

  • Article by: ERIN ADLER and KELLY SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 5, 2014 - 2:43 PM

A $20.9 million pool renovation in Eden Prairie: Has it joined Chaska in out-amenity-ing Scott County?

With a fancy community center complete with renovated aquatics in next-door Chaska, some Shakopee residents were already green — or maybe blue — with envy.

Shakopee City Council member Kathi Mocol says people tell her they want a pool more than any other amenity.

“I hear more and more that, ‘I go to Chaska,’” she said. “I think they are looking for a community-based pool, not a gym membership.”

This summer, another neighboring suburb is making a big jump forward in that same department.

Eden Prairie is diving into a $21 million project to replace its existing pool and add two new lap pools, as part of a 32,000 sq. foot addition.

Now the question is what impact might it have in a place like Shakopee, which has struggled for years to get such projects done.

Watching other suburbs race to build new recreational facilities while Shakopee treads water is concerning, Mocol said.

“I hear that over and over again: If this community is doing that, why can’t we?” she said.

Jamie Polley, Shakopee’s parks and recreation director, agreed that the desire is there: “Long term, yes, we would love an aquatic facility,” she said.

But unlike other suburbs that are rushing to build pools, ice rinks and sports domes, Shakopee voters have been reluctant to add amenities, despite a growing population.

Three public referendums proposing community center updates have failed in 15 years, including two in 1999 and 2005 that proposed adding a pool to the community center.

The struggle will sound familiar to folks in Eden Prairie, which has a similar history of failed referendums to fund improvements to their community center’s 30-year old pool.

Creative and controversial

Eden Prairie’s pool project shows that when voters won’t pony up, some cities are willing to find creative — and controversial — ways to pay for projects.

The updates will be funded not by referendum dollars, but by $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, a youth swimming club that uses the pool to practice.

“I can see why they would look at doing that,” Mocol said of Eden Prairie’s funding solution.

Eden Prairie’s Mayor Nancy Tyra-Lukens called the pool improvements “a tremendous asset to the community.” She added that the city has heard about the need to replace the aging pool for 12-15 years.

Not everyone is thrilled about the pool: In the last year, some residents have criticized the lack of a public vote.

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