Editor’s note: This article has multiple authors. They are listed below.
Minneapolis, the “City of Lakes,” has a dirty little secret. In a state with one of the highest drowning rates for children of color in the nation, the city has no public, community-accessible indoor pools offering year-round swimming instruction. Unfortunately, in Minneapolis, the opportunities to learn to swim — and to reap the many health benefits that can come with swimming regularly — are too often reserved for those with means.
On April 1, six of the nine members of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board voted to move forward with restoring and expanding a Park Board-owned pool in the Phillips Community Center. With the opening of the Phillips Aquatics Center, close to public transportation, these commissioners made a huge contribution to the equity picture in Minneapolis.
The best part of all this is that 57 percent of the capital required for the project has already been raised by outside sources, and the money continues to come in.
Additionally, outside revenue sources covering the bulk of core operating expenses have been identified and have committed to providing funding for the first five years of operation, with no indication that these commitments could not continue beyond that time period. Finally, a detailed business plan was developed showing how, with enough lanes, the pool could be used to generate revenue to help offset the cost of operation, while always providing access to the citizens of Minneapolis 16 hours per day.
Given that all of this was organized by unpaid volunteers, the members of the Park Board felt comfortable that its professional staff, working in conjunction with these volunteers, could make the project a success.
It was disturbing, however, to read the Star Tribune’s article about this decision (first published online and then in print on April 4, under the headline “Parks to spend big on pool for south Mpls.”). Here are a few of the items of concern:
• The board did not choose the most expensive option. The most expensive option was an eight-lane competition pool, with a four-lane teaching pool and expanded community resources. The cost for this option had been estimated by the Park Board at up to $7.9 million. What the commissioners chose is a never-before-proposed midrange compromise at a cost of $5.42 million.
• Reference to the “project’s backers” refers to Minneapolis Swims, which has, in fact, raised $2.83 million in firm commitments, pledges or cash as of the Park Board meeting on April 1. Additionally, another $250,000 of likely funding in the form of a Capstone Grant has been identified by a local foundation.
• The article fails to mention that Minneapolis Swims has also secured $275,000 in annual operating commitments from the Minneapolis Public Schools, the YWCA Otters Swim Team and Augsburg College for the first five years, totaling $1.37 million. Another $20,000 annually for five years has been committed toward scholarships.
• The article states that “the sixth-year operating deficit would be $336,000.” Wow! Scary-sounding for sure, but with five-year commitments, the Park Board would have plenty of time to find replacement funding, which would be needed only if the three anchors don’t renew. If replacements aren’t found, that would just be poor management. This also seems to discount all of the other revenue streams the Park Board consultant identified. Regardless, stating that the pool will lose $336,000 in the sixth year is just reckless.
• The Park Board is also blamed for “plunging ahead” with a decision rather than discussing alternatives. In fact, it was exactly the opposite. Commissioners tried, on numerous occasions, to suggest that the vote be delayed. The administration, not the commissioners, insisted that the vote needed to take place at the April 1 meeting.
We are the City of Lakes, in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, and water really is a part of our recreation culture here. It only makes sense that our world-class park system would provide a year-round facility ensuring that everyone can enjoy our natural resources safely, regardless of economic status. This facility will be another jewel in our system, not just for the equity it provides, but for the collaboration of people, neighborhoods, levels of government, foundations and corporations that have all come together to make it happen.
This article was signed by state Senate Deputy Majority Leader Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis; state Rep. Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis; Minneapolis City Council Members Abdi Warsame and Alondra Cano; Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board Members Brad Bourn, John Erwin, Meg Forney, and Scott Vreeland; Evan Hall, Midtown Phillips Neighborhood Association board chair; Carol Pas, East Phillips Improvement Coalition board chair, and Denny Bennett, Minneapolis Swims board president.