A new future for Webber Park Pool

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During the summer of 2011 it was difficult to look at the empty Webber Park Pool without feeling sad. It was a stark reminder of the blow our community took from the tornado that passed through in May of the same year. The pool had been slated to close before the tornado came through, but if there had been any glimmer of hope that the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) would commit to investing in its opening one more time, the tornado hammered in the final nail of closure. In addition, the tornado took down virtually every tree surrounding the pool, leaving the cement hole as a skeletal reminder to those who would have loved to see it filled with water. With the demolition of the pool this summer there has been a passing of an era. When I reflect upon that passing era, I feel a sense of loss, and I imagine others do as well. I’ve spoken with many people who have a litany of Webber (or Camden) Pool memories. For many, the memories reach out in two directions, to the generations of people who are older and those who are younger. These are good memories.

The MPRB has promised a new future for the aquatic patrons at Webber Park and to support that future they have established a $4 million capital budget. As you may know by now, there will not be a traditional pool, but rather a natural swimming pond. The charette design process, along with public meetings held in the late fall and winter, led to a decision to build a naturally filtered swimming pond further west in the park. If you haven’t already seen the natural pool design, it is posted outside of the Webber Park building, near the round-about, as you walk to the building. I regard its posting as evidence that the MPRB will follow through with its promise to complete this project.

The MPRB staff met with natural pool consultants from BioNova, in July. BioNova designs and constructs natural swimming ponds, sometimes called NSPs. These ponds use no chemicals, and the water is purified with plants, beneficial bacteria and microbes. BioNova states that the natural filtration makes an ecologically friendly pool, which allows for greater environmental sustainability. They have 25 years of experience in NSP design and construction, and have installed NSPs on five continents. BioNova is working in conjunction with Landform of Minneapolis and the MPRB to design the natural swimming pond at Webber Park. This will be the first natural swimming pond in the United States (http://www.bionovanaturalpools.com/ newslist.html).

Jennifer Ringold, Manager of Public Engagement and Citywide Planning, confirmed that the construction documents for the pool elements are in progress. “We anticipate approving the contractor for the parking lot improvements on October 3. This will be the first round of construction. Our goal is to get this work done so that we minimize the disturbance to the recreation center programing when we are constructing the pool. We anticipate construction to begin on the pool in early spring 2013 and are still working toward opening it during the 2013 swimming season. Based on projected growth/establishment times for the plants, we are anticipating that it will be opening the mid part of the swimming season.”

At the public hearing in February, many people spoke in favor of the new design, but there were a few who expressed concerns regarding the filtration system and also concerns about losing a pool venue as opposed to the pond. I personally spoke in favor of the design. Not because I am 100 percent sure that the pond can replace the pleasurable experience provided by the traditional pool, but because these changes are ushering in new practices that are environmentally sustainable, the people leading the process seem sincere about providing a quality and free swimming venue for our community, and it is the best hope for a new aquatic era to be ushered into Webber Park for the generations to come.

The hole is filled in and grass is planted. The area of the old pool will be repurposed for other activities. In the short run it will provide more green space and picnicking. The plans for future improvements suggest putting in an amphitheater and the topography seems that it would favor that addition. If one dares to dream big, it could be imagined that Hennepin County and the MPRB, might collaborate on such an idea, expanding the library right where it is, building a band shell adjacent the amphitheater and in collaboration any number of cohosted events might happen there. For more info visit the MPRB website project page.

In the meantime, remember your days at the pool and plan for grand opening of the new swimming pond in 2013. A fun exercise in remembering would be sharing those stories in these pages. Send them in to the Camden News, editor@camdenews.org.