Public pool idea surfaces again

The ongoing conversation about building a public pool in Stillwater has started again after the closing of Lily Lake to swimming because of the presence of a deadly parasitic amoeba in the lake water.

City resident Judy Gulden is trying to organize a group to address this pool issue again.

“Some of us believe that if the plan was supported and given the nod by the city, we could organize civic groups, philanthropic groups, and grants for us to rally together and raise money for a pool, and we want to find those opportunities,” Gulden said. “A lot of people have expressed interest in helping with this but they don’t want to throw their comments in to the Grand Canyon and they won’t spend their time spinning their wheels. We’re not asking for a pool with a ton of bells and whistles, or one of those water parks that tourists so enjoy. We’re simply looking to put in a basic modest swimming pool.”

Gulden said the group she’s leading is waiting for a nod from the city and is wondering if the city would be interested in that idea.

“There is interest at the city level (in building a pool),” said City Administrator Larry Hansen. “But frankly, swimming pools are expensive, they don’t make any money no matter how you make it and they’re expensive to attain and expensive to care for. It’s a matter of getting the community to be willing to pay for it, but there is currently no interest.”

According to Hansen, the pool conversation has been going on for “20 years or better.” Many efforts have been discussed but none came to fruition, including a joint plan with the Stillwater school district and YMCA and a private group that came forward as well.

“We met and talked about it but that was about it,” Hansen said about the private group’s plan that fell through.

Gulden said she’s been told that a pool would cost from $7 to $10 million but was still waiting on figures for a small modest pool from Ward 4 Councilman Micheal Polehna. Polehna has tried to advocate for a pool in the past, but Hansen said Polehna’s efforts are always stymied by funding.

“The pools do cost a lot of money, though I remember from when I grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, that there was always an outdoor pool that we’d go and hang out at all summer,” Polehna said. “(The city) had a designer come out and tell us what goes into the building of a pool about a year ago and the operating costs are very expensive and that’s kind of where I’m at right now.”

Gulden said she and her group are collecting information on what the community wants from a pool. There have been negative responses to their idea which include: people joining a health club; families driving to Lake Elmo, Square Lake or St. Croix Beach and pay the associated fees associated.

But Gulden said those ideas are options for some people in the community due to their economic status. Gulden feels that the issue has enough support going forward, especially if the city says the project is something they’d have interest in.

“I’ve heard from teens and community members that they’d be interested in fundraising,” Gulden said. “We have a history of being a generous community once a project has been identified as a project going forward.”

Pending a response from the city regarding a letter she’s sent them about her idea, Gulden plans to organize a September meeting with others in the community who feel a pool is a good idea.

“More isn’t always better with something like this, but if people who are very passionate about this project step forward I think we can make a real difference,” Gulden said.