By Jacob Mathias
The Mead Pool may not have much of a future.
The future of the Mead Pool and Wisconsin Rapids aquatics programs was discussed at length at a committee meeting of the city’s whole Common Council. The consensus was that council members were not in favor of investing much in the aging pool. They instead look toward new facilities and partnerships with other aquatic options.
“How do you figure out what’s going to be best to serve our residents but also what is it the city can afford and sustain long term because the days of building outdoor pools on its own have kind of come and gone,” said Mayor Zachary Vruwink.
A recent inspection of the pool, which opened in the early 1970s, has revealed problems that would require it to be closed including health issues due to lack of water circulation which could breed bacteria and damages to tiles, gutters, deck and walls. The pool also leaks over 1,000 gallons per day adding to water and chlorine costs. The damage was caused not only by age but also rising ground water levels and freezing temperatures.
An outdoor pool’s life is typically 25 to 30 years.
Multiple options are available including $155,000 to $187,000 of maintenance to the pool which would end up closing off the diving well. With this option, the pool would only continue to operate for another two years.
Another more thorough maintenance option comes with a price tag of $262,000 to $337,000 and will allow the pool to operate for three to five years.
Even if repairs are made, the pool could be shut down immediately if another inspection reveals continued concerns. The maintenance options need to be decided soon. If it’s decided to make repairs to the existing pool, plans and construction needs to begin as soon as possible if the pool is to open for the 2016 season.
“In order to get the pool to a point where it would be useable in 2016 there is an absolute enormous amount of work and the plans for that would need to start about five months ago,” said Public Works Director Joe Terry. “I don’t want to let you believe it’s a sure thing that we can open on normal opening day…it would be a challenge.”
Due to the temporary nature of the repair options, the council members were against spending any significant amount of money on something that may not even work.
“We’re nickel and diming it to keep it alive,” said District 5 Alderman Steve Koth. “It’s kind of like an old car…how much more money are you going to put into it before you cut your losses and have to get something new.”
Should the pool remain closed, it could take up to three years for a new option to become available.
“Even if there is a delay of one year or two years or three years, if there is a great, well thought out plan at the end, I think people can understand that,” said South Wood County YMCA CEO Bret Salscheider.
A more favorable option would require abandoning the pool and installing one or more splash pads in parks throughout the city at a cost of $100,000 to $300,000 each depending on size and scope. Swim lessons would be negotiated with the YMCA while a new full-size pool is designed and constructed at a cost of $3.5 to $5 million.
A final option which many council members approved of included installing the splash pads and negotiating swim lessons with the YMCA while also partnering with the YMCA in building a new aquatic center.
The new YMCA is already in the works and a 70,000 square foot building with a price tag of $18 to $20 million is planned for an unknown location. Rapids residents wishing to use the pool would pay daily entry just like they do at the existing pool rather than need a full YMCA membership.
Salscheider is going to return to the city with proposals for possible partnership options.
If the pool is closed, council members said they want to provide summer recreation programs using the $70,000 normally earmarked for pool operations. This could include providing busing to other area pools at local YMCAs or Lincoln High School as well as access to other summer programming.
“If we close we should be committed to exploring some programmatic options so we can keep these kids engaged in the summer,” said Vruwink.
Concerns were also raised about having an indoor only pool as the outdoor option is desirable in the summer months.
More discussion on the future of Mead Pool will take place at the next Parks and Recreation Commission meeting which is not yet scheduled.
The next meeting of the Common Council is on November 17 at 6:00 PM in the council chambers of city hall.