Push continues for a Stillwater city pool

  • Article by: NANCY CROTTI
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • November 16, 2012 - 4:52 PM

A vocal group of residents in Stillwater wants a municipal pool. The question is, how to make it work?

City Administrator Larry Hansen says the city would have to buy six to nine acres of land for a pool and accompanying parking. The city Parks and Recreation Board learned that making enough money to operate a pool would require building a $7 million to $12 million aquatic center. The board voted in September to recommend that the City Council drop the idea for now.

Fear of a brain-eating amoeba that caused the deaths of two children who swam in Lily Lake is adding to the push for a city pool. The amoeba caused a form of meningitis that killed 9-year-old Jack Ariola Erenberg on Aug. 7 and 7-year-old Annie Bahneman two years ago.

Despite the city's reluctance to get involved, residents have not given up.

Holly Metzler Capelle and her family moved from Maplewood to Stillwater for the familial feeling the city touts. She wants her children, Indira, 4, and Everett, 2, to learn how to swim and be comfortable in the water -- safely.

"First we tried Lily Lake and found glass on the beach," Capelle said of an incident two years ago. Last summer they tried a beach along the Minnesota side of the St. Croix River.

"My daughter started screaming and she had a fishhook in her foot," Capelle said.

Now they drive to a beach in Bayport to swim in the river.

"But I'd like to see something indoor and outdoor, some kind of community center," she said.

Marisa McGlynn and her family moved to the Mill Brook neighborhood of Stillwater last June. When they lived in St. Paul, they would go to the Highland Park Aquatic Center, which the city converted from standard lap, diving and toddler pools to a small water park a few years ago. When she could not find a similar public facility in Stillwater, McGlynn made the trek with her children, ages 5, 3 and 1, back to Highland Park last summer.

McGlynn said her favorite childhood memories came from swimming at the neighborhood pool in her native Madison, Wis.

"I grew up going to a pool every single summer," McGlynn said. "I would love to have a pool here. That was a big drawback."

Some longtime residents agree with the newcomers that Stillwater would help its citizens by providing a public pool.

Judy Gulden has been actively organizing residents to lobby for one. Gulden said she and others would be happy with a simple pool with a gently sloped splash area for toddlers. Her North Hill neighborhood is loaded with kids, including her two grandsons.

"It would just be so wonderful if these kids and their moms and dads or babysitters could just bike over there and have a good time and spend a few hours or spend a day," Gulden said.

Health advocate Ann DeLaVergne has lived in Stillwater since 1985. Growing up in Flint, Mich., DeLaVergne found that having a public pool builds community and gave everyone the opportunity for exercise. She said she would be willing to pay more in taxes for a pool.

"There's recreation land being planned all the time. That's all tax dollars," DeLaVergne said. She added that pools, community garden space and the like should be part of the conversation. "Nothing against baseball diamonds and basketball courts, but I think it's good to think of a broader spectrum of recreation."

Mayor Ken Harycki wants a city pool, too. He said the city simply cannot afford it now.

In addition to coming up with the money for land acquisition and the pool itself, the city would also have to buy chemicals, hire lifeguards and train staff to maintain a pool.

"We're not against the idea," Harycki said. "The problem is trying to pay for it and trying to find a location. And the gist of what we learned was the ones that seemed to cash-flow the best are the big Maplewood water park or Apple Valley water park type of thing.... If you go that route, the costs go astronomically high."

Harycki said he suggested that Gulden work with a nonprofit organization or the Stillwater Area Public Schools to construct and maintain a pool. Gulden wants the city to form an ad hoc committee to study all aspects of building a pool in Stillwater.

The city, which closed the lake to swimming after Jack's death, is seeking the advice of an expert from Atlanta to determine how to improve public safety at Lily Lake, Harycki said. Keeping the beach closed is not a permanent solution, he added.

McGlynn said other moms warned her against taking her children to Lily Lake.

"Every mom I talk to would love a pool," she said. "We want a pool in our neighborhood."

Nancy Crotti is a Twin Cities freelance writer.

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