aquatic center timeline, meetings, and more thoughts

Since I wrote last week about my thoughts on our aquatic center, I’ve received a couple of requests for more info. One asked me to explain further about the “research” that I referred to. It’s a fair question, so I figured I’d dig a little deeper here to provide even more info.

Save Legion Pool meeting - July 22, 2018Before I go further though, I want to make sure a couple of things are clear. I’m only one of eight aldermen. We each have our own thoughts and reasons for voting the way we do. When I hear things like “the city wants this” or “the city said that”, those things may be true, but just realize that not all of us necessarily agree (unless it was something we actually voted on at a meeting, in which case there’s a public record of how each of us voted). When I was at the Save Legion Pool meeting on July 22 at Legion Park, there was a sense among attendees that they wanted to know what they could do to change the city council’s mind. That’s also a fair question, but again, there is no silver bullet here. So what follows are simply my thoughts.

I decided to provide this information in the form of a timeline below, so that you can see what we did and when. The information that I used to vote the way I did at City Council meetings (we voted on several items related to this project) was mostly provided to us at the meetings. There is no single piece of research or single document that I could give you and say, “here, this is where it’s all at.” However, before I provide the timeline, I want you to know that there are two documents that I feel are very important and were very instrumental in my own homework:

2014 Aquatic Facility Evaluation

This is the document that makes it clear that we can no longer continue to maintain our current pools. Both must be torn down, and we then need to start over and determine what we should do about swimming facilities for the city. There have been additional events since then where we we’ve had to not only shut down a pool for major repairs, but spend a lot of money on those repairs.

De Pere Aquatic Presentation

This is the presentation that Marty Kosobucki (Parks, Recreation, & Forestry Director) gave to the City Council at our Nov 15, 2016 meeting. In it, he provided extensive data about our current pools along with even more data about other Wisconsin cities who built aquatic facilities. Keep in mind that there is no magic document or piece of data that tells us what to do. So I appreciate all the time spent by city staff to research this information and pull it together.

Another important point, at least for me, is that up until this meeting, I was in favor of keeping two pools.

One of the significant concerns that many of us have is the dwindling usage of our pools in recent years. Attendance at both pools dropped by 22% from 2012 to 2016. This tells me that if all we do is repair our existing pools or even tear them down and rebuild a new traditional pool, that won’t solve the problem. One thing that this presentation told me is that an aquatic center becomes much more of an attraction than a traditional box pool. And other cities have seen an increase in attendance after building one.

So, let me say a few more things before I get to the timeline.

The Save Legion Pool web site has a nice page that answers the question, “what can I do to help?” One of the answers is, “Pool attendance has decreased in recent years. Grab your friends & neighbors and head to the pools!” Well, you should know that a one time spike in attendance in 2018 won’t do it for me. Don’t get me wrong, I hope more and more people use the pool, but the data we looked at was over many years. It would be irresponsible for any alderman to make long term financial decisions based on a one or two year spike in attendance.

Now, when considering our need to increase attendance, I must also mention numerous comments that were shared directly with me or at a meeting, comments similar to:

  • “we like our quiet neighborhood pool”
  • “we like the fact that the pool isn’t busy and we know everybody there”
  • “a facility like Joannes is way too busy for a city like ours”

These comments concern me, because while many people enjoy the quietness at Legion pool, that’s exactly what’s wrong with Legion pool. While attendance goes down and makes it a quaint, familiar facility, the finances get worse and worse.

Another comment about usage came when one resident told me that we should not consider non-residents. I couldn’t disagree more. To be clear, I don’t think residents of Lawrence, Hobart, Ledgeview, and other neighbors should have any say in what we do or how we do it. But we do have to consider the fact that usage by non-residents helps us to pay for many of our park programs and facilities. If we decided to restrict usage to only residents, our fees would have to go up accordingly.

So, what follows is a timeline of events. In order for you to begin to see my point of view (and perhaps that of my fellow aldermen), you may want to visit each of the meeting web pages below and watch the associated video; the discussions we had at each meeting are important. Note that this is not necessarily a complete list of every time a city group discussed the swimming pools. I’m not on the Board of Park Commissioners, so there may be more meetings about swimming pools than what I’m listing. These are just the ones I have in my own notes.

Swimming Pools Timeline

Let’s start by noting that VFW Pool opened in the summer of 1958 and Legion Pool opened in the summer of 1962. Both pools were renovated in 1987.

Oct 16, 2014 – Board of Park Commissioners

Jan 15, 2015 – Board of Park Commissioners

Feb 2, 2016 – City Council

Nov 15, 2016 – City Council

Mar 21, 2017 – City Council

Dec 14, 2017 – Board of Park Commissioners

Dec 25, 2017 – Board of Park Commissioners

Aug 7, 2018 – City Council

Since I’m already writing this, I’ll make a couple more points.

East/West Thing

You should know that at no time in any discussion I had, whether in an open meeting or directly with a neighbor, did any alderman engage in a campaign to have the facility on their side of the river. Because of how our districts work geographically, there are 4 aldermen on the east side and 4 on the west side. And we never had any discussion where we each pleaded the case for our side of the river. I was very impressed with how the Board of Park Commissioners conducted their discussions, by looking at locations, considering things like land, trees, other recreation facilities (tennis courts, softball diamonds, soccer fields, community center, etc), available parking, etc. These were the factors that went into the location decision.

When the Park Board was discussing the location, I made a suggestion to them to consider a site near Altmayer School, since much of our growth is on the southeast side of the city. I appreciated the fact that my idea was indeed brought up, even though it didn’t get much support.

Board of Park Commissioners

Today’s Park Board is made up of these people:

  • Ald. Ryan Jennings
  • Ald. Larry Lueck
  • Ald. Dean Raasch
  • George Brown
  • Sue Schinkten
  • Randy Soquet
  • Bill Volpano
  • Ella Bublotz
  • Lydia McCorrow

There were other members in the past, but these are the people today doing the hard work. This process of figuring out what to do with our swimming pool situation has consisted of a number of the toughest decisions that were made by any committee in my six years on the council. I often watch their meetings on video, and when I listen to their discussions, it’s obvious to me that these people love our city just like all of us. They care deeply about all residents, and at times, they struggled because they knew that their recommendations to the City Council might not be popular with some residents. But they still plowed forward and did their job. And I commend each of them for their hard work and dedication.

Safety

The issue of safety has been brought up numerous times, and this is the issue that some news outlets have picked up on. I just don’t buy it. I mean no disrespect, but we have examples of kids crossing the river without any safety issues. I live on the west side, and when my kids wanted to go to the library on the east side, they could walk or ride their bike, or usually we took them in the car. It’s the same for west siders getting to the Riverwalk or playing soccer at Optimist Park. I get that some residents might be used to their kids biking on their own, and there’s still a safe way to do that, but if you don’t think it’s safe, just drive them. I know this may sound insensitive, but this is how it works to get to any facility in any city. Some kids are okay riding their bikes many miles, some are not. And it’s up to us parents to simply decide. On the days when my wife and I weren’t able to take my kids to the library, sometimes they just didn’t go. The parking lots at Legion Pool, VFW Pool, Voyageur Park, etc often have many cars in them, so I know many people get this.

People have spoken about the safety of the roundabout. So I also looked at a map to see where many of the Save Legion Pool families live; I just wanted to understand the geography. And based on that map, I don’t understand why kids wouldn’t cross Broadway at Merrill Street instead of the roundabout. There’s a traditional traffic signal with crosswalks at Merrill and Broadway. And there’s another intersection just like it just north of the roundabout. So yeah, I get that the roundabout can be tricky, but if you still want your kid to walk or take their bike, just don’t use the roundabout.

I also see many kids at Voyageur Park, all the time. Literally all the time. I’ve never asked them, but I can’t imagine they’re all coming from the west side. Some have to be coming from east side neighborhoods and crossing Broadway. I know there’s a way to cross because it’s being done.

It seems to me that if crossing Broadway is the concern, then let’s just fix that. One resident told me that the green light crossing Broadway at Merrill is too short. Fair enough. So we’ll have our traffic team take that up and make it easier to cross. Seriously. It should be simple enough to make it safer to cross Broadway, then we’ll be all set. No more safety concerns.

Summary

Mayor Walsh noted at one of our meetings that many of these votes were unanimous. That’s important, because it shows that all of us saw the same info and made the same conclusions. If the votes were much closer, then perhaps we could discuss and resolve those differences. But our path forward is clear. We need to continue with our decisions and build one aquatic facility at VFW park.

8 comments

  • Marlene rasmussen

    Although I live in the city I don’t agree that Ledgeville Hobart and Lawrence don’t have a say in this issue. As most of these new subdivisions are where most of the new young families are with the children that will be using the pool. I have a pool pass for VFW but have now joined the Kroc center which is open all year, will not be getting another pool pass for only 10 weeks.
    What happens if a private company like the Kroc or Y build in East Depere as rumor has it, most residents would choose indoor all year long facility and not be supporting your pool.

    • Scott Crevier

      Marlene, if I were taking orders and instructions from non-residents, many of my constituents would have a big problem with that. We are not elected by non-residents. Non-residents don’t pay property taxes in De Pere. That said, I fully respect and appreciate the fact that they use our facilities and programs. So I don’t mind if our city staff were to confer with their neighboring counterparts to discuss and even tailor some programming. But at the end of the day, this is a decision by De Pere residents.

      There have indeed been talks about the Y building an indoor swimming facility in De Pere. I don’t have any info or inside details though, and nothing is set in stone; so I suspect this is many years into the future. But I just disagree with you. I think that even if we had an indoor swimming facility in the city, our residents would still use our outdoor facility. This is what happened in Green Bay with the Kroc Center as you mentioned. I know that Joannes is still a very busy facility. But I suppose we’ll find out.

      Lastly, you referred to it as “your pool”. It’s not mine, it’s ours. If residents choose to go to another facility instead of ours, obviously that’s okay. I sometimes go to parks and restaurants in other cities. But I hope people don’t do that out of spite; that would be a shame. But as I just said, we’ll find out.

  • Chris Ditzman

    Hi Scott,

    Thanks for sharing your thought process. I appreciate your transparency and I think that says a lot about your leadership.

    Wondering what communities were identified as successfully building a well attended aquatic center? Neenah has been mentioned, but I’m assuming there may be more than one?

    Wondering how the city anticipates this aquatic center competing with neighboring aquatic centers like the Joannes Aquatic Center, the Resch Aquatic Center, Tundra Lodge, the Crock Center, Ashwaubamy, and the East side YMCA? There seem to be quite a few aquatic centers for a small population, and I’m guessing you will lose a significant amount of east side patronage to these other centers. Some people just want a traditional pool, and those actually seem harder to come by.

    I also think you may need to rethink the “spike” in Legion attendance this year. The road situation outside the park has been prohibitive for kids and adults alike all summer, and I’m sure that kept people away as well.

    • Scott Crevier

      Chris, good questions. I hope I don’t sound disrespectful, but if you read through all of the links and watch the videos that I provided, you’ll get answers to your questions. That said, I’ll try to touch on each.

      1) Neenah, Appleton, Sparta, Onalaska

      2) I don’t know that I’d use the word “compete” when considering the other aquatic centers in the area. I suppose you could see it that way, but nonetheless, we still have a responsibility to provide services to De Pere residents. So I guess it’s like competing for park facilities, ice rinks, tennis courts, soccer fields, and even private organizations like restaurants, theaters, etc. I think we’ll do fine.

      One De Pere resident said at a meeting that she wouldn’t take her kids to De Pere’s aquatic center, she’d take them to Joannes instead. Well, of course that doesn’t make sense. I don’t see how Joannes will be any more like the neighborhood pool that people want than VFW would be. And it’s certainly not safer to get to than VFW. A comment like that shows that people may just do that out of spite which nullifies every argument that I’ve heard so far. To never support a facility that your own taxes are paying for and instead bring your dollars to a neighboring city doesn’t seem right. I’m not saying you should never do that. I spend a lot of time and money in Green Bay, Ashwaubenon, etc. But I do it for variety and preference, not spite.

      As for some people still wanting a traditional pool, I’m with them. That’s my preference. But unfortunately, there’s not enough of us to sustain traditional box pools any more. Obviously our hope is that the new aquatic center will have something for everyone.

      3) I understand the road construction, the same work was done on my road this year. But given everything I’ve heard, I don’t see how it would stop kids from walking or biking to Legion Pool. And it’s only a simple neighborhood street, so even driving around it isn’t all that inconvenient. But yes, maybe it caused a few people to stay away. It’s events like that that caused us to look at attendance numbers over a longer period of time and not just a couple of years.

      • Chris Ditzman

        Hi Scott,

        Thanks for the reply. And no offense taken. I am not as familiar with what I am looking at (nor is the general public at large), so help finding data is helpful.

        Can you share any attendance data and revenue/expenses on those aquatic centers that were used as models? Were there aquatic centers that did not fare well included in the study? Curious as to why Green Bay’s aquatic centers were not also used in the study.

  • Adrianne

    Thank you for your post and links. I have viewed most of the meetings and don’t feel that the path is as clear as you do. The information you were given did lead to an aquatic center, but you are missing information. I encourage you to come to the Park Board meeting on Thursday to see the information that is presented. This issue is not as black and white as it may appear from past meetings.

  • Betsy Hornseth

    Hello!

    Thanks for the thoughtful newsletter!

    Just one thought. We talked about attendance last week at our discussion sessions with Ald Boyd and Ald Lueck and they agreed on this point: Attendance is not indicative of revenue. Our revenue ticks along pretty steadily. That’s not to say we couldn’t do better, but any loss in attendance hasn’t mirrored a loss in dollars. So while attendance may not look like it once did, we have to think about the bottom line. If every resident in De Pere bought a season pass, but rarely went to the pool, I think we’d still consider that a pretty successful year!

    We also need to recognize the fact that our system is not totally reliable. We have scans, but we also take tickets for day passes. I can’t imagine that counting these little tickets is the most scientific process.

    I hope this addresses at least one of your concerns. The rest hopefully can be discussed on Thursday and in the days and weeks to come.

    Thank you for your diligent service to our city. I am grateful.

    Sincerely,
    Betsy Hornseth

  • Carrie Bressers

    Scott… Thank you so much for your work on this very divisive topic. I wholeheartedly disagree on many issues, which I’ve shared below, but I respect the work you’ve put in to inform us of how you came to your initial vote.

    1. A single acquatic center that is larger is not organic to a neighborhood. You are very right that it will bring in tourists… But what if that’s not what the citizens desire for their community pools? Financially it may look more viable on paper, but what if we as a city take a substantial cut to our regular memberships? We’re YMCA members, and would opt for the size/crowd control of a smaller pool, albeit indoors, for a group of rowdy tourists any day, even if they’re ‘footing the bill’. I’m certain that we would still visit the new site… But I’m doubting we would see the need for an annual membership.

    2. This notion of a more advanced water park also disconnects families with smaller children. Every year, we’ve taken our kids to a ‘big’ waterpark exactly once per year.. when they’ve earned their free day at Joahnnes with the library reading club. Otherwise, we opt for a more carefree existence at our little pools. We first moved here when our youngest was only 3… And you would never have convinced me to be a regular at one of those parks, because the anxiety of how many ways my preschooler could hurt themselves would have been too heavy a burden to bear as a young mother.

    3. The cost of the proposed acquatic center is blooming. Both in construction and staffing. I’m betting maintenance and insurance for those more advanced attractions are also higher than projected. And there will be the added cost of remediation of the Legion pool site.. . Which seems to have been left off of all of the current estimates, even though it is a real cost incurred with the decision to move forward with this project.

    4. There is no current public plan to assist the summer day care facilities on the East side, including the city’s own program at Dickinson Elementary, to transport these children 2-3 times a week to the new site for water recreation. This program has been in place for decades, and steals a regular summer activity right out from under them. If I were a working parent, I’d be working overtime to get them on a wait list for another summer care in order to ensure they had continued access to the same activities they’ve always enjoyed. Or, I’d expect the city to eat the cost of regular transportation to and from the new site… at a cost which also seems to have been left out of calculation for the time being.

    Thank you for listening to our concerns.. It is greatly appreciated.

    With utmost respect,
    Carrie Bressers & family

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