Phillips Community Center may lose its pool


Phillips Community Center, currently closed for repairs, is set to re-open in June, but when it does, it may be without its pool. Robert Albee, from Ventura Village, a Phillips neighborhood organization, said that he received a call from Park Board Commissioner Scott Vreeland on March 22 in which Vreeland said the pool would be destroyed on April 1. 

“I thought it was an April Fool’s joke,” Albee wrote in an email. He has been organizing the community to both save the pool and make sure that the community center will become a much needed resource for all members of the neighborhood.

In an interview on March 23, Vreeland said that he wasn’t sure whether the pool would be destroyed on April 1. He said he was talking to staff about the issue. However, whether or not the pool is destroyed on April 1, Vreeland said: “We’ve never said there might be a chance to bringing the pool back to that location.


And the debate continues … emails published with permission:

Email from William Kingbury to Park Board members

Dear Scott and Annie,

I am very upset to hear that the pool at the Phillips Pool & Gym is slated to be filled in April 1. This is a resource that would be extremely useful for the Phillips neighborhood and should be saved. I doubt there is any way we could construct a new one for twice as much as it would take to
repair the existing one.

According to your website, the Park Board is committed to citizen participation. However as an active member (and Board Member) of the Ventura Village Neighborhood, I have heard nothing about any citizen committee for the PP&G project. Have I been missing something? This has been an active concern of VVNA for at least a year.

Please get back to me and let me know that you will at least put a halt to the dectruction of the Pool until you have completed an active citizen review of the project.

Bill Kingsbury
Ventura Village

Response from Annie Young, Park Board member

Thank you all for your comments and concerns regarding the use of the Phillips Community Center (also known as the Phillips Pool and Gym).

 The problems at PCC are complex. For starters…
1. The Boys and Girls Club operated the pool not the MPRB.

The MPRB has never operated the indoor pool.  The pool was operated by the Boys and Girls Club when they occupied this site.  If a pool is in operation it requires a different approach to the HVAC equipment and roofing materials that are designed and ready to be installed.  The HVAC equipment that was designed, bid, and will be installed in the building did not take into account an indoor pool operational in the facility.

and  2. If we were going to operate the pool, here is what it would take:

The capital expense, depending upon the number and type of additional features would range from $600k to over $1.5 million. In addition, there would need to be additional HVAC work done, and these cost estimates, do not include those capital and operational costs.  The estimated annual operational expense if restored to the current configuration would be $125k to $140k with annual lifeguards and other staffing, depending upon hours and use being, and additional $30k and up.

To top things off it is not Annie’s fabulous indoor playground idea.  It is an idea proposed by planning staff for the reuse of that building. There has not been a final determination of new uses for the building but right now to just get the operating systems up to par.

People in the neighborhood have been informed of these plans and have known that we would be getting rid of the pool. However, obviously not the “right” folks in the neighborhood heard or listened to our rehab plans.

It has now been suggested that we wait until a Board meeting )April 7th) and stop the contractor who is ready to do the work on April 1st.  That will cost us many dollars and would get us really nowhere. If we kept the pool, a whole different type of roofing materials and a different type of HVAC would be needed rather than the one we are installing now.

If it is the desire of the neighborhood to have a pool it might be best to build an annex south of the building that would house the pool and could be built with the right equipment and operating systems to have a pool.  This could even include solar thermal for heating the water.

As far as any concerns about public input and process for this building it should be noted that it was a stabilization and rehab project for an existing building. This does not require using our CAC process.

And last, but not least, is Where would we get the money, both to do a different type of rehab and to operate and maintain a pool system in the building?  We are cutting $3.4 million from our budget beginning in June and heaven only knows how much we will have to cut in 2011, but it won’t be pretty.  It is so ugly as a matter of fact that the Board will be considering closing some facilities and rearranging programming at many of our other 49 sites.  We can no longer maintain the community center system we have. This may include selling some buildings – we would keep the land underneath but have others purchase buildings for other uses. Could this happen at PCC – yes, it is possible?

I also feel Phillips should consider itself LUCKY.  It will be finishing construction and opening a new facility in East Phillips.  It has gotten funds for improvements at Stewart Park and we still hold out to rebuild and
program Peavey Park.  This is more than any other part of the City – especially the Northside that has even more needs than Phillips because it has very little to start with in comparison.

I am sure this message will not make you all happy but at this point the MPRB will be moving forward with its current plans. We cannot afford to pay the contractor delay fees on our contract with them.  The materials are here and ready to go. Even if there was a reconsideration of the idea about cementing in the pool , it wouldn’t be for the purpose of the MPRB operating it as a public pool.

Thank you for your input and suggestions.
Annie Young – not your only option for citywide Commissioner who might also be able to help support your District Commissioner as this issue moves forward.

The building was originally a junior high school, built in 1926. In 1973, Wendell Phillips Junior High School worked with the the Model Cities Program to build a pool and gym. According to a 1989 Star Tribune article by Cheryl Johnson, the school closed in 1982. The building was slated for demolition. After pressure from the surrounding community, the city decided to salvage the pool and gym. The city provided $1.5 million to re-open the building as a community center in 1989. The primary tenant was the Boys and Girls Club, which subsequently leased the space for the next 20 years. The YWCA also rented space for a daycare center, and Pillsbury United Communities was the other tenant.

A March 17 community meeting about the pool was organized by Robert Albee and took place at The Center for Changing Lives. At that meeting, Jim Graham said that the Boys and Girls Club’s lease with the city entailed paying $1 plus maintenance costs, which were treated as rent. Graham said that when the Boys and Girls club left the space in 2008, there were millions of dollars of needed repairs, which the Park Board signed away for $40,000 from the Boys and Girls Club.

At the March 17 meeting, neighbors discussed both the issue of the pool and also other future uses of the building. People said they wanted youth programming, but also activities for elders and families, arts programming, and health and wellness activities.

Kamal Hassan, from the Somali community, said it would be great if there were opportunities for indoor soccer at the center, since he currently has to drive all the way to Hopkins to play. Another person mentioned that it would be great to have activities such as cooking classes.

Several people at the meeting also said they wanted a space that was safe for all ethnic groups. Though the Boys and Girls Club does not officially serve a particular ethnic group, Clyde Bellecourt, a Native American elder who used to run the Peace Maker Center, said that many of the Native American youth were afraid of going to PCC because of racial tensions between Black and Native American youth.

Chaka Mkali, with Hope Community, said that the underlying tension between the different ethnic groups is part of what makes it difficult to provide equal access to everyone. Phillips is divided into four sections: Ventura Village, Phillips West, East Phillips and Midtown Phillips. With the East Phillips Park still under construction and the Phillips Community Center closed, that means that youth have to cross neighborhoods, and sometimes gang lines to reach a place where they might be able to play sports after school.

Mkali said that so far the Park Board has not been able to address this issue. He hopes to do a racial impact analysis for the neighborhood. It is important to resolve what was impeding youth in going to parks and community centers, Mkali said, because research shows that most youth violence happens during after school hours.  Ultimately, Mkali said it was important for all of the Phillips neighborhoods to work together to do what’s best for the youth and everyone in the community.   “The park board tries to pit us against each other,” he said.

Park Board Commissioner Scott Vreeland said that there was only so much the park board could do because of budgetary constraints. “We’re looking at losing $3.4 million  if the Pawlenty cuts go through,” he said. According to an MPR report last fall, the cost of repairing the roof and boiler so that the building could reopen, without fixing the pool, would total $500,000. Sufficient repairs to the building and pool to allow the pool to reopen are estimated to run in the millions.

Robert Albee said that the community is not asking the Park Board to repair the pool, but to give the neighborhood a chance to raise the money themselves to fix it. “We recognize that the Park Board has a limited budget,” he said. “But we’re willing to organize… How dare the Park Board destroy the only swimming pool they have without input from the community?”