Minneapolis pool faces uncertain future

  • Article by: STEVE BRANDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 25, 2014 - 10:42 PM

Push to reopen the Minneapolis facility aims at boosting swim teams and lowering minority drowning rates.

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The pool at Phillips Community Center sat empty and closed with a basketball hoop at its side.

Photo: KYNDELL HARKNESS • kyndell.harkness@startribune.com,

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Minneapolis park officials are poised to restart efforts to revive the Phillips Community Center’s dormant swimming pool after years of blown fundraising deadlines.

There is still a whiff of chlorine in the center’s darkened pool room although the pool itself, a remnant of the mostly razed Phillips Junior High, has not been used for years.

Local residents fought off a 2008 proposal to fill the pool, and now a community-based nonprofit says that an expanded swim center is needed for competitive swimmers and by minority kids at risk of drowning.

“We’re here to provide access to people that wouldn’t otherwise have it,” said Denny Bennett, the new board president for Minneapolis Swims, the group trying to build the pool.

Fundraising, however, remains a struggle.

After three years of trying, Minneapolis Swims still hasn’t raised the $2.8 million that the Park Board says is needed for even the cheapest option, which mainly revamps the existing six-lane pool and adds a small pool for teaching lessons.

The Park Board is scheduled to act Aug. 6 on a proposal that would spare Minneapolis Swims the sole cost of operating the proposed aquatic center. Then the two organizations would look together for construction and operating funds.

Some commissioners are leery of taking on a pool that they worry would require taxpayer money the park system can’t afford.

“I am very concerned,” said parks Superintendent Jayne Miller, who added that in her experience, pools never cover their operating costs and the park system is already facing a looming budget deficit.

Bennett, with Minneapolis Swims, told park commissioners in July that he thinks an eight-lane pool with a bigger teaching area would be more viable. That could cost upward of $5.8 million, though a contractor has estimated a similar version that would save $1 million.

Minneapolis Swims remains well short of even the cheapest option, having raised $2.2 million in state, Hennepin County, Augsburg College and park money. It announced this week a grant of up to $250,000 from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, but it needs to match the grant in order to get the money.

The project is also racing toward another make-or-break deadline. It loses state-backed construction money if it can’t break ground by mid-2016.

The proposal before the Park Board sets new deadlines to raise the needed construction money by the end of February and five years of operating expenses, estimated at $600,000 annually.

Advocates for the pool say the new facility would give Minneapolis swim teams, both high school and youth, a competitive boost. Minneapolis high schools are down to two multischool swim teams, which shuttle among two district pools and one YWCA pool for practice.

Supporters also say the pool could ultimately reduce drownings. Fully 78 percent of Phillips’ population comprises minorities who statistically face a higher risk of drowning, which supporters say a teaching pool could address.

Phillips lacks the lakes of other areas of Minneapolis, and the closest pool, at the Midtown YWCA, charges for use.

The proposed pool would also charge admission, but backers already have raised $20,000 from the YWCA for scholarships for low-income residents.

Drowning disparity

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