Minneapolis Public Schools leaders will spend $1.75 million to help park officials renovate the Phillips Community Pool to give children better access to swimming lessons.
The spending is part of a broader agreement that the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board and the district will work together to give students greater access to all sports facilities and recreational programs. District officials want priority scheduling for other sports facilities, such as hockey arenas and soccer fields. School officials are also asking for certified lifeguards and swimming lessons for all students.
“We saw this as an opportunity,” Interim Superintendent Michael Goar said. “We’ve had ongoing issues with needing additional support, and this gave us the opportunity to think beyond just a pool.”
The board approved the capital investment Tuesday evening, but not without an hourlong discussion about the pool’s size. Board Member Rebecca Gagnon introduced an amendment that would require the Park Board to build an eight-lane pool if the district gave them the money. Her amendment failed.
The pool project has been underway since 2011, with funding coming from private donors, colleges, the county, Legislature and school board.
But the project has come up well short on funding. In April, the Park Board voted to move forward with building the pool even though it might have to take out a $2 million loan. But the Park Board only approved a six-lane pool, falling short of the larger pool school board members backed.
In recent months, school board members were frustrated that Goar initially did not want to commit to spending more money on the pool, which put him at odds with some of the school board members. The district had already promised $150,000 to help operate the pool. Goar wanted to study the district’s entire athletics needs before investing.
The proposal to spend on the pool comes at a time when the district is facing a multimillion-dollar budget deficit.
District staff members are asking the board to allow them to dip into the district’s reserve fund after facing an unexpected $21.7 million deficit this school year. District officials say they were able to recover $9 million, but will need $12.5 million from the reserve fund. Officials have not said how they plan to replenish the reserve fund next school year.