by Joe Bachman
City officials picked a direction for Wisconsin Rapids aquatics on Monday night — a direction that potentially gives residents both indoor and outdoor options.
There was not an empty seat in the council chambers in a special common council meeting, as city officials discussed the options between the indoor and outdoor options presented last month. The public that filled these seats spoke out in favor of both indoor and outdoor options.
“Why can’t we have both? has been asked many times,” said Mayor Zach Vruwink. “Both the city’s aquatics consultants and the YMCA’s consultants have determined that there is the market and desire for a regional aquatics facility as well as an indoor facility.”
As residents spoke out in favor of an outdoor facility built at Witter Field, it was also mentioned that access for financially disadvantaged families is a must. An outdoor option is seen to potentially bring in families from around nearby regions, estimated at approximately 61,000 people.
“Kids need to be outside,” said Alderperson Tom Rayome. “It’d be nice to do both — but my support is for the outdoor regional option.”
City officials were largely in favor of a new outdoor facility at Witter Field, but noted that parking in the area could be a future concern with such high traffic coming into the area. The costs of both options come at a minimum $5 million dollar price tag for the YMCA option, and a $4 million to $8 million dollar price tag on an outdoor facility. Alderperson Scott Kellogg called for the inclusion of more splash pads in outdoor areas around the city, as well.
South Wood County YMCA CEO Bret Salscheider reminded the public and council that an indoor facility not only generates revenue for the city, but will bring an economic boost in the area through the ability to host state swim meets and other aquatic events.
“It’s not just about swimming laps, or slides, but there are multiple programs out there,” said Salscheider. “There are more constituents than just children that we need to be mindful of. — Ten weeks [per year] is all you’re going to get out of an outdoor pool”
The YMCA would provide 2,500 hours of year-round access, and according to Salschieder, an indoor pool provides diversity to the community with multiple programs and activities for all ages.
“The one thing we have to think about when we make this decision is the responsibility to the taxpayers and residents of Wisconsin Rapids,” said Alderperson Steve Koth.
A decision that according to resident and Incourage Peer Council Facilitator Rick Merdan, can and should be all-inclusive to residents.
“We strive to meet the needs of our region and to enhance a community that can attract and retain young families,” said Merdan. “These facilities will play an important part both in the aquatics access that they provide but also as a testament that our region can work together for the benefit of the region and not just individual interests.”
The first motion saw a 7-1 vote to move forward with plans to build an outdoor facility at Witter Field — the second motion carried an 8-0 vote in favor of additional splash pads in various locations throughout the city.
Taxpayers aren’t the only partner for a potential YMCA Healthy Living Center — while consensus of the council is with both options, they would like to see inclusion and partnerships of other towns and villages in the area, including Port Edwards, Grand Rapids, Rudolph, and others, as stated by Alderperson Todd Ferkey in closing.
“I would highly encourage the South Wood County YMCA to contact Port Edwards, Nekoosa, Rome, Vesper, Saratoga, Grand Rapids and set up a meeting to bring this to the table next month so that we can all work together and get this done.”