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EGF pool supporters push hybrid pool for year-round use

At first, the talk about a new or remodeled swimming pool in East Grand Forks centered on an outdoor model. Then, Mayor Lynn Stauss widened the conversation by saying he preferred an indoor pool.

Lynn Stauss
Lynn Stauss portrait

At first, the talk about a new or remodeled swimming pool in East Grand Forks centered on an outdoor model. Then, Mayor Lynn Stauss widened the conversation by saying he preferred an indoor pool.

In the interest of reaching a potential compromise, Save Our Pool committee members last week started looking at a third option -- a hybrid model. With removable ceiling and wall panels, the facility would take advantage of the sun and breezes in the summer, but also keep out winter's cold and summer's rain. It could be open 12 months of the year.

"To me, it's the idea where we could meet in the middle and give everyone who wants a pool to get on the same page," said Melody Olstad, the SOP leader.

"It might be the answer," she said.

SOP, a nonprofit group mostly comprised of parents with young children, came forward last fall, offering fundraising help when city leaders balked at the price tag of pool improvements. Stauss countered the bid to invest heavily in an outdoor pool, noting that the city's senior citizens prefer a pool that could be used year-round rather than its usual 10-week season.

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The city's financial commitment is $1.5 million to an outdoor renovation or new project, with potentially more money if it's indoors. The estimated cost of a new outdoor pool is $3.5 million and the hybrid would cost at least that much.

"In either case, we will need a big (naming-rights) donor," Olstad said.

All-seasons pool

Although SOP isn't close to choosing an option to sell to the council and the public, it's using the Allan Witt Aquatic Center of Fairfield, Calif., built by OpenAire, as a model of the indoor-outdoor concept. Rapid City, S.D., also has a similar model.

Fairfield's former facility was built in the 1950s and closed in 2003 because of its poor condition. OpenAire then manufactured a retractable enclosure and designed it into a six-lane, all-season pool with two waterslides, a playground set in knee-deep water and a play area with water toys.

It featured a retractable roof made of glass and polycarbonate panels. Forty percent of the roof retracts and glass doors and walls open to a patio and allow the flow of air through the facility.

SOP members believe the hybrid would offer novelty, different than the outdoor pools offered during the summer and different from the indoor facilities at the likes of Canad Inn, the Altru Family Y and Choice Health and Fitness.

"This is the kind of indoor pool I could support," Olstad said. "This fits the bill."

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Mayor's concern

Stauss said his main concern with any pool is its cost -- both to build and operate. He noted that the indoor pools in Crookston and Thief River Falls both lose money and so do virtually all city-run outdoor pools that are open in the summer only.

"It's our obligation to look at every avenue and see what's best for the long run," Stauss said. "It's also our obligation to find a way of funding the operating costs, not just the building costs.

"We're talking 40 years, not four years, so we have to make sure we do the right thing."

However, Stauss has touted an indoor facility -- a pool inside a wellness center that could be used year-round by seniors and school physical education classes. He added that such an ambitious facility would be possible only with state help.

"I'm glad we're looking into every option because this is a big decision for us," Stauss said. "(Ten weeks) of swimming is awfully short. I like any enclosed pool because of the amount of usage we will get with it.

"But we have to figure out a way to do this, with the costs nailed down first."

A long way to go

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Money raised will determine the pool's scope. In addition to the city's promise of $1.5 million for a new pool or an upgrade, SOP has raised $10,000. Half came from fund-raising last fall and $5,000 from its first corporate donation last week.

So, it has a long way to go.

However, Olstad said she is confident the hybrid will have lower maintenance costs and likely will qualify as a green project and thus be eligible to access grant money.

"What I do know for sure is that we won't achieve this unless the indoor people and the outdoor people are working together," she said.

"Our job is to present the city options and raise money. It's the city leadership's job to determine what's possible," she said.

No matter its shape, SOP members and city leaders share the hope that new or improved water recreation will be available by 2016.

On the Web: To see details of the Alan Witt Aquatic Center, go to openaire.com , click on projects, then community municipal projects

Call Bakken at (701) 780-1125; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1125; or send email to rbakken@gfherald.com .

Related Topics: EAST GRAND FORKS
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