Minneapolis Swims plunges in with pool proposal to park board

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Citing statistics of persons of color and low incomes drowning in the Land of 10,000 Lakes prompted Minneapolis Swims and the Phillips Community Parks Initiative (PCPI) into pushing the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board (MPRB) toward supporting a proposal to enable them to pursue independent funding to restore the 75′ pool located in the now-closed Phillips Community Center building, scheduled for reopening in February, 2011.

Minneapolis Swims is the brainchild of East Phillips residents Hannah and Kevin Lieder who have begun efforts to organize Phillips residents and stakeholders for the effort needed to get the pool up, running and sustainable. Hannah, a swimming instructor at the Mid-Town YWCA has long sought the opportunities to get a better handle on the life-skills of water safety and fun associated with recreational swimming.

Lieder points out: “Learning to swim saves lives. Drowning is a leading cause of death in children ages 1-14 and minority children drown at three times the rate of white children. We believe swimming can help transform the lives of at-risk youth by offering them opportunities to demonstrate courage by taking calculated risks and to build self-esteem by overcoming a natural fear of the water.  It is a foundational skill for a lifelong healthy lifestyle and it opens access to the world of water-oriented outdoor activities. This is especially important in Minneapolis and greater Minnesota where we have been blessed with an abundance of lakes and rivers.”

Last March, the Phillips Community learned that the Park Board had set aside $97,000 to fill the pool with concrete to create an alternative use for the space. MPRB staff stated to the Daily Planet that approximately $985,000 would be required to restore the pool. A strong outcry led to a “Save Our Pool” campaign that won Phillips Community a six months moratorium on the pool’s destruction.

Before that time had elapsed, three of the Phillips Community neighborhoods and Minneapolis Swims each provided $1,500 to engage DJR Architects in a study of the pool and what funds would be needed to restore the pool. DJR’s has worked with U.S. Swim & Fitness franchises in designing facilities and engaged their own consultants, who determined that it would only cost $267,000 to return the pool to basic usage status. However, to provide a facility such as pictured here, would cost closer to $650,000.

According to Minneapolis Swims, locating funds to renovate the aquatic center is not the key problem here. Both the Park Board and Minneapolis Swims acknowledge that sustaining an annual operating cost of nearly $300,000 in a very low income community is where the difficulty lies. MPRB staff and commissioners expressed pessimism, yet offered no substantive alternative that would address the needs of Phillips Community residents of all ages. To reduce the space to an indoor playground for little children offers nothing of value for the needs of youth

In its formal presentation to MPRB staff members Don Sigglekow, Judd Riechert, and Al Bangoura, Ms. Lieder told them that Minneapolis Swims is requesting two years to secure the funding for both restoration and to address the issue of operational (year-by-year) funding. Next step is to make the case for restoring and operating the swimming pool through strictly private funding to the Minneapolis Park Board Commissioners themselves.

To learn more about this effort and to personally weigh-in on the issues of restoration and operations, see Minneapolis Swim’s website: www.mplsswims.org. A copy of the pool study is also available at the website. This is the time to contact your MPRB commissioner and voice support for their blessings to restore this Phillips Community asset through private contributions and ongoing private support.