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.

City officials, on the other hand, said a public referendum wasn’t necessary. The renovation was required to fix an aging facility and meet growing demand for swim time, they countered.

Residents were also upset when the project came in over preliminary budget estimates because of more detailed designs, added amenities and space.

Earlier estimates called for two pools and renovations costing $16.5 million. Added fitness space, more seating, a hot tub and trading in one 12-lane lap pool for two eight-lane lap pools pushed the cost to $19 million.

Then in May, the City Council approved alternate designs, putting the project at $20.9 million; the largest change was for a $1.3 million water slide, which includes its own small pool.

Not in the cards

In Shakopee, however, an indoor aquatic center isn’t likely to materialize anytime soon, Mocol said, despite the fact that plans for a community center addition with a zero-depth pool are already drawn up.

Because the Shakopee school district is preparing to put another referendum on the ballot, the city wouldn’t want to compete, she said. Last spring, the district’s referendum, which would have built a second high school, failed by a large margin.

“As a city, ours would probably have to take a back burner,” she said.

The city does have three pools already, Polley said. The city also runs SandVenture Aquatic Park, a chlorinated outdoor pool that looks like a sand-bottomed lake.

Each junior high also has a pool, though one is aging. But Mocol emphasized the school facilities aren’t usable when school is in session.

Meanwhile, in Chaska, Tom Redman said that city’s community center is “very, very successful” — and the aquatic center is one of the biggest reasons for its popularity.

Many Shakopee residents use it, and the facility draws visitors “from a more regional population” as well, said Redman, Chaska’s parks and recreation director.

Since it was built in 1990, the city has added onto the community center three times, with $1.5 million in pool-area renovations over the past three years.

Mocol said that until the community and City Council want to make funding new recreational facilities a priority, little will change in Shakopee.

She said she can envision paying for projects through means that wouldn’t require a referendum, such as economic development dollars. But she added: “I think it’s going to take some planning to decide if that is a priority or if they would rather have it go back to a vote.”