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.
Before 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:
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.
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
Oct 16, 2014 – Board of Park Commissioners
- discuss aquatic facilities condition report
- PDF document: http://deperecitywi.iqm2.com/Citizens/FileOpen.aspx?Type=4&ID=3495&MeetingID=1338
Jan 15, 2015 – Board of Park Commissioners
- decision to approve long term strategy for pools
Feb 2, 2016 – City Council
- decision to hire Vierbicher Associates to conduct aquatic facility location study
- Aye: Bauer, Boyd, Donovan, Kneiszel, Lueck, Raasch, Rafferty
- Nay: Crevier
Nov 15, 2016 – City Council
- decision to replace two existing pools with one aquatic facility
- Powerpoint document: http://www.de-pere.org/egov/apps/document/center.egov?view=item;id=5206
- Aye: Boyd, Carpenter, Crevier, Donovan, Jennings, Lueck, Raasch, Rafferty
- Nay: none
Mar 21, 2017 – City Council
- decision to place aquatic center at VFW Park
- Aye: Boyd, Carpenter, Crevier, Donovan, Jennings, Lueck, Raasch, Rafferty
- Nay: none
Dec 14, 2017 – Board of Park Commissioners
- special meeting (at Community Center) to discuss request to maintain Legion Pool
Dec 25, 2017 – Board of Park Commissioners
- decision to change recommendation to City Council on Legion and VFW pools
Aug 7, 2018 – City Council
- decision on the final design of the aquatic center
- motion to table the issue
- Aye: Boyd, Carpenter, Crevier, Hansen, Jennings, Lueck, Nelson, Raasch
- Nay: none
Since I’m already writing this, I’ll make a couple more points.
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.
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.
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.