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How a neighborhood pool won over the Legislature

Posted by: under Minnesota legislature Updated: March 28, 2012 - 7:02 PM

There are winners and losers every time the Legislature starts spending money.The biggest winner in this year's bonding bills might just be a Minneapolis community pool.

The Phillips neighborhood pool, the last indoor public pool in the urban center, was on the verge of being filled in with concrete by a parks department that lacked the funds to repair it.

Enter Hannah Lieder and Minneapolis Swims, a community group dedicated to preserving one of the last places where neighborhood children can learn to swim – no small concern in a state with tragically high drowning rates, particularly among minorities.

“The kids in that neighborhood have told me that building saved their lives,” said Lieder, who armed herself with statistics on drowning deaths in Minnesota and a small army of her neighbors and their children; then headed to the Capitol to do some lobbying.

“We asked all these representatives to sit down and talk with us -- and they did!” she said. “It’s just a miracle.”

In a year when projects were being slashed left and right, the Phillips pool made it into all three bonding bills. Gov. Mark Dayton and the House set aside $2.1 million to repair the pool. The Senate asked for $1.7 million.

How? Lieder just convinced the chairmen of both the House and Senate capital improvement committees that the project was worth the state’s investment.

“I will go to bat for Hannah Lieder any day,” said Senate Majority Leader and Capital Improvement Committee Chairman Dave Senjem, impressed by the lobbying effort undertaken by a group with – as Lieder said -- $300 to our name. The project made it into the Senate's $500 million borrowing bill.

House Capital Improvement Committee Chairman Larry Howes, R-Walker, also went to bat for an endangered swimming pool that sits 188 miles from his hometown;  muscling it into the $280 million House bill over the objections of his own caucus.

“I’ve gotten pushback, yes,” Howes said. “I strongly support this project. I just think it’s an awesome thing to do, when there are 12,000 to 15,000 children in that community who could use that pool…Particularly when Native American and African American children have very low rates of knowing how to swim.”

There are also pools at four Minneapolis public schools, Lieder said, but they're scattered in the four corners of the city, in wealthier neighborhoods than Phillips, and too far away for most residents to use. Saving the pool means saving lives, Lieder said, and saving a place that's been the heart of a community for decades.
 

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