Plans to close the 52-year-old therapeutic pool located on the University of Minnesota’s West Bank campus are being met with heavy opposition from neighborhood residents and commuting patrons.
In January, the University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview sent a letter to pool patrons announcing the decision to permanently close the pool at 2450 Riverside Ave.
The pool is scheduled to close Feb. 26, but pool patrons are fighting to keep it open.
Sally Lieberman, a University employee who has contributed to the efforts to save the pool, said she and several patrons planned to deliver a petition Monday with 250 signatures urging Fairview to keep the pool open.
But Fairview spokesman Ryan Davenport said no efforts would prevent Fairview from closing the pool.
“It was a really tough decision,” Davenport said. “We have taken their concerns to heart.”
Many patrons, including Christine Sikorski, 49, of Longfellow, were devastated by the news of the closing.
Sikorski was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis when she was 17 years old and has been using the therapeutic pool for 18 years to improve her physical and mental health.
Sikorski said the pool not only improves her flexibility and stamina – both desperately needed to raise her 3-year-old daughter – but also gives her a sense of camaraderie since many of the other pool patrons also suffer from debilitating diseases, such as arthritis, fibromyalgia and cerebral palsy.
“I get to exercise with people who understand my needs,” she said.
Davenport said the pool has been operating at an $80,000-per-year loss, and making the upgrades needed to keep the facility operating would be expensive.
On top of the estimated $300,000 needed to renovate the facility, it would cost another $250,000 to make it compliant with the requirements from the Americans with Disabilities Act, Davenport said.
While trying to continue to provide such a wide array of affordable patient care services, Fairview is unable to bear these extra costs, he added.
However, Davenport said Fairview will hold the space for six months if patrons can form an action plan to raise funds for the necessary renovations.
Fairview also sent patrons a list of other therapeutic pools in the Twin Cities area that Fairview will work with to help ease patrons’ transitions to alternate facilities, Davenport said.
Sikorski said the list is inadequate because the pools listed are too far away, too shallow, are not maintained at a high enough temperature or are not open during convenient hours. She added that the Fairview pool’s central location and convenient access to public transit make it irreplaceable.
“There is no pool in the Twin Cities area that fulfills this function,” Sikorski said. “We feel like this lynchpin to our health is going to be swept away.”
Sikorski said patrons will continue to try to keep the pool from closing, and Lieberman said a group of them plan to picket in front of Fairview’s main entrance Thursday.