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Pool idea brought to city council

In front of a packed room, Jay Larson (left to right), Mike Smith, Sally Darling and Karla Thuringer present their petition for a new outdoor pool to the Worthington City Council Monday night. (Aaron Hagen/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON -- Citizens Pooling Together, a group advocating for a new outdoor swimming pool, presented a petition to the Worthington City Council Monday night during a meeting that filled the council's chambers to standing room only.

The group began by reading a prepared statement, which outlined its progress from last summer's original meeting until it was able to present its petition.

"The response was greater than we expected and a lengthy discussion was had about having a safe, clean, outdoor facility for the children and families in Worthington," Karla Thuringer read. "The Facebook site 'New Outdoor Pool for the City of Worthington' was launched, and again the response has been overwhelmingly positive. It quickly became clear to those involved that a new outdoor facility is on the minds of many."

The group presented a petition to the council that had more than 500 signatures.

"What was even more important were the discussions we had at gatherings such as Sassy Saturday at the Northland Mall, where people talked openly about the issue," Sally Darling read. "There is great support of the YMCA, but the overwhelming general consensus is that the outdoor piece is too small for a community our size.

"There is much frustration in the public about the loss of the old pool," Darling continued. "Many felt that the public was excluded from the discussion about tearing it down and others felt that the options to fix the structure were never fully explored, or if they were, they were quietly discarded for the YMCA option."

The group stated a new outdoor pool would be a quality-of-life issue. "Many things the community offers such as our park systems do not generate revenue and are not self-sustaining, but are priceless in terms of their value to citizens," the group read from the letter.

It was also compared to the golf courses in town. "Now might be the time to consider how existing dollars are spent. For example, people express concern to us about how our community and the city council can justify two golf courses when both of them are losing money," the two-page document said.

The group finished its statement by asking that an online survey be conducted by the council so residents can provide direct input to the council on what they feel is important.

City Administrator Craig Clark gave some perspective for costs of the pool.

"We tried to talk to some folks about what other communities have and what we could expect for some costs," he said. "It came down to about $3.5 million for a comparable pool."

Clark said the old pool operated at about $100,000 loss annually and without knowing the size and chemicals, he estimated a new pool would lose $125,000 a year.

"How does that compare to the golf course?" Mike Smith asked.

"They are about the same, but in terms of statistics, the golf course has twice the usage of the pool," Council member Ron Wood said.

Clark continued that the city expected a capital reserve of $100,000, which is what it is doing with the current pool. With those numbers, Clark said it would mean a levy increase of just shy of 15 percent.

He mentioned the benefits of working with the YMCA, including having the pool facility open six times more by having an indoor facility and the fact the operational costs rest on the YMCA and not the city.

"I was curious to know if you've had anybody, any individual or corporation, come forward and is willing to put significant dollars toward the project," Council Member Scott Nelson asked.

The group replied that it wasn't to the point of looking for donors at this point.

"You must have talked to your constituents about the possibility of tax increase and so on," Council member Diane Graber said. "What has been your feedback of the operating costs and what could be done?"

"There was several comments made about the Feb. 12 article and basically what was heard in that article was 'we're done spending that money,'" Smith answered. "That was earmarked for future things on our community. I haven't sat on the city council, but I don't know how many times you get five or six hundred people sign something and get this many people to show up and say 'we want something specific.'"

Jay Larson also said the group was addressing the quality-of-life issue.

"The city parks don't generate any revenue," Larson said.

Mayor Alan Oberloh responded by saying less than a year ago, he was advocating closing two city parks because of Local Government Aid reductions.

"You brought up a point that we weren't forthright, and you said you didn't want to rehash it, but you brought it up," Oberloh said. "We were very forthright. I've sat in this chair for 10 years, and we discussed that pool almost every six months until we built it. Toward the end, we were discussing it every month. And we were very forthright with this community. We had schematic designs at several locations throughout the city; people could have looked at it anytime."

Darling responded, "The feedback was people felt they were not invited to make comments."

"I was here when you were discussing the pool and I did express my concern that the pool was not going to be large enough for the community for an outdoor facility," Thuringer said. "You guys said, 'No, it will be great, you'll love it.' Well, we don't love it."

Larson said it was tough for people to look at something in the plans.

"In my vast experience, it's very hard for a lot of people to look at something two-dimensional and comprehend what it will look like in three-dimensional reality," he said.

Oberloh said most of the council who made those decisions were no longer on the board but added, "I'll tell you right now, there are openings for every one of you to serve on this seat. They are tough decisions we make when we make them. We need to be very conscious of that."

The group did say it would be open to discussion, and Larson commented even enlarging the current pool could be an option.

"There is much concern in the summertime there is not a safe place for (teenagers) to be," Darling said. "Our goal was to gather the feedback and share it through the democratic process with the council to say this is a need. We're not saying we're not open to options; we're not saying it has to be. We want to start the discussion to bring the need to the forefront."

The council didn't take any action, but agreed to look into the issue.

"I think we need to look at this for a bit of time and we need to have a conversation," Wood said. "I think we need to see if there is a group that's willing to raise money out there."

"I'm not saying no, and I don't think any of us are saying no to anything," Wood continued. "But there are so many different things that weigh on the people that sit here."

In other news, the council approved the liquor, wine, on-sale beer, off-sale beer and dance license for The Tap.

The bid for the furniture, fixtures and equipment for the Event Center to Culinex for the amount of $254,065.83.

Another bid was awarded for the Event Center's audio/visual components to Reach Communications, pending the due diligence of staff. The big was $49,967.

Daily Globe Community Content Coordinator Aaron Hagen may be reached at 376-7323.