OPINION | Delay on the Webber Park pool difficult for the community

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I think Lucy Van Pelt’s personality must have been extremely compelling. How else can one explain the behavior of Charlie Brown? Self-confident and knowledgeable, Lucy attracted Charlie Brown into her version of friendship. She played on his baseball team, offered him deprecating versions of psychiatric help and was always willing to offer up the pigskin. Lucy Van Pelt – holding the football and promising to let Charlie Brown kick it. Charlie must have been thinking,“Yes, yes, yes. I’m going to get a piece of it this time. That beautiful football will go soaring and everything will be wonderful. How can somebody with such a prestigious name as Van Pelt let me down?” But she would. Everytime. Just as Charlie Brown was giving his best effort, she pulled the ball away. It would drive me crazy. “Please Schultz, just let him kick the ball one time.”

If you’ve lived in North Minneapolis for more than two years you probably remember the Webber Pool. There is a beautiful and powerful story behind the building of the pool that served our community for 100 years, but I won’t go into that here. Time and change has led the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) in a new direction. One that offers a new aquatic experience; more natural and more sustainable. You may have followed the developments; the pool needed repairs and was scheduled to close in 2011. The MPRB planned a charrette to facilitate community involvement and a master plan was developed, complete with $4 million of aquatic improvements and a grand opening during the 2013 summer.

On February 13, the MPRB planning department sent out an update on the Webber Pool project. It stated, “Despite a few delays and setbacks due to the complexity of required legislation and additional permitting necessary for natural filtration technology, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board is making good progress on development of construction documents for the pool and pool facility at Webber Park. The project is currently going through the conditional use permit process and next steps will be to prepare it for the City of Minneapolis Purchasing Review. Upon completion, the formal bidding process is scheduled to begin mid-February with a goal of bringing a recommendation before Park Board Commissioners in April. If all goes well, a groundbreaking will be held in spring 2013 and a grand opening of the new facility will take place in summer 2014.”

Cliff Swenson, Director, Design & Project Management for the MPRB, expressed his regrets about the delay. “I’m sorry for the delay. We all [the entire design team] tried very hard to find a way to complete the project on a faster track, but given the number of approvals required and that we want to make sure that we are successful with our first NSP, the project is taking longer than we expected.” Additionally, “Whenever you are a pioneer and venture into new uncharted territory, it is inevitable that you will run into some unforeseen bumps in the road, . . . But it was necessary to work through the proper channels and processes and to do this thing right so we can be a model for other parks across the country as they choose to implement this progressive new style of public swimming facility.” And our Park Commissioner Jon Olson remains enthusiastic commenting, “We are extremely excited about this innovative new facility coming to North Minneapolis. We are proud to be on the forefront of this environmentally friendly, health conscious new era for public swimming facilities.”

There will be construction at Webber Park, and so the wading pool will be closed. Bohanon’s wading pool will be open. Check the MPRB website for info regarding aquatic opportunities in 2013 and updates on the Webber Master Plan, public.govdelivery.com/ accounts/MNPARKREC/subscribers/new.

This delay is difficult for our community. I trust the good name of the Minneapolis Park Board. Take a look at our city. Our parks and their amenities are marvelous. However, finishing this project in as timely a manner as possible is extraordinarily important. Last summer on a Saturday evening, boys were feuding at a gas station just a few blocks from the former Webber pool. They took their grievances to the next level. Shots were fired into one house bringing return fire on another day. An innocent five year old child died. Is it possible that they might have been at the pool on Saturday, or Sunday instead of feuding? We can’t know the answer to that question, but neither can we afford to wait to see if this trend continues when teens and children live in a community that offers little supervised recreation in the hot months of summer. The MPRB has promised that there will be a grand opening of the new aquatic facility at Webber Park in the summer of 2014. In the meantime, maybe the MPRB will set up free bus transportation from Webber Park to Lupient Pool during the hot summer months. It might be worth asking.

Charlie Brown did kick the ball. Just once. Snoopy worked his magic and an invisible Charlie Brown was able send the football soaring. I hope the Park Board can work some magic and get this Webber Park pool done. Our community, especially the children and teens of this community, need this pool. They also need their new library, but that’s another story. To the MPRB, “Please get this thing done.”