“A preliminary master plan” has been approved by the St. Paul Parks and Recreation commission, to replace the closed Como Pool, according to St. Paul Parks and Recreation Project Manager Don Ganje, but currently there is not enough funding to pay for it, and some neighbors are still unhappy about the new pool’s design.
The old neighborhood pool closed last year, and was demolished in April due to “extensive infrastructure, mechanical and electrical issues” that deteriorated to the point that short term repairs would “no longer be sufficient,” according to the city’s website.
The current design includes a six-lane lap pool, a diving area with a 50-meter, three-lane lap pool attached, a splash pool for children and a lazy river, which is a water ride with a slow current that allows people to ride around in a circle on rafts. The current design is considerably simpler than earlier proposals for a more elaborate water park but many neighbors still see the project as too big and too expensive.
“People are all up in arms,” said Art Oglesby, who hosts a website dedicated to giving people more information about what’s happening with the park. He said he’s still not happy with the lazy river concept that made it into the final design. “Don’t turn it into Wisconsin Dells,” he said.
The total budget for the pool carries $7.2 million price tag. Ganje said the project is “designated to receive $2.2 million in state funding in 2010 and the mayor has proposed an additional one million dollars of city funding for 2010,” which would cover the completion of the design phase, as well as the construction of the bath house by the end of 2010 and the construction of the new entrance road and parking lot by 2011. “City funding from the next CIB funding cycle would be available in 2012 to allow construction of the actual pool, with an anticipated opening of 2013,” Ganje said.
However, the Capital Improvement Committee (CIB) failed to approve funding the Como Pool replacement for 2010. Ganje said : “We have some of the money, but we don’t have all of the money.”
Claudia Daly, who lives across the street from the proposed pool site, said she and her neighbors around Como Park first heard “rumblings about some kind of terrible thing happening across the street,” near the end of July 2007. The “feisty band of about a dozen or so”, according to Daly, started to meet and discuss their concerns about St. Paul’s plans. They formed Neighbors Opposing Park Exploitation (NOPE) whose mantra became “NO WATERPARK, NO LAZY RIVER, NO ADDITIONAL TRAFFIC,” according to Daly.
Soon after, the Como Park Alliance (http://comoparkalliance.org/index.html) (CPA) “started because of the concern for the updates to the pool and the potential effects of traffic on the neighborhood and green space being converted into parking lots,” according to CPA’s website, which also states that its members “wanted to have a voice in what happens in the park.”
In the summer of 2008, the Como Park Alliance conducted a survey of citizens concerned about the future of Como pool. The survey, which had 296 online responders and 62 paper form responders, found that citizens were concerned about traffic, parking issues, loss of green space, and that the pool would turn into a water park as opposed to a neighborhood pool.
Aware of concerns from the local community, the park board set up a task force to carry out the design process. Originally the task force consisted of 12 members, but several people dropped out over the five month process. Meanwhile, a consultant team of designers, engineers and city landscape architects also met to “determine the new design of the facility”.
The task force met between December of 2008 and April of 2009. Marcia Milgrom, one of the community members on the task force, said “They made the effort of wanting community input, but personally, I have some doubts that they wanted community input.” Milgrom said that community members from the neighborhood weren’t allowed to propose ideas at the meetings. When she asked if she could bring neighborhood consultants in, she was told that was not allowable.
In March, the design committee presented a “design charrette” in which some of the proposed drawings were passed around to the community in an open meeting for all of the neighbors. Michael Kleber-Diggs, a task force member and a resident of Lexington Parkway, said “Some members of task force felt that the charrette process was a little bit unfair.” Community members gave feedback about which of the designs they liked best, but Kleber-Diggs said that cost factors weren’t presented as a part of that discussion.
In the end, the final design was passed by the task force committee, with Milgrom and Kleber-Diggs dissenting. The dissenters, along with other concerned community members, created a minority report, which stated that the task force process was flawed . That report, titled “Community Alternatives Vote-Como Aquatic Center” states that “The Task Force was not given sufficient time to gather and incorporate public feedback.” Other flaws of the process, according to the minority report, include concerns that impact on the park was not considered, other locations in St. Paul were not considered, and that “the design charrette was structured to achieve a desired outcome.”
A few vocal community members think the current plan is misguided. Mary Wawro, for example, said she feels that in today’s economy, now is not the time to build a large aquatic facility and that funds should go toward jobs for the unemployed.
John Marino, who lives on the west side of the park, has been handing out leaflets around the neighborhood, asking people to phone and email city council members and the mayor. “We’d like the pool but not the lazy river,” he said. “This is an example over development.” One of Marino’s main concerns is about the increase of traffic. “If people want a suburban type thing then they should go to the suburbs,” he said.
Ganje said that the new plan takes increased traffic into consideration, and includes steps to help ease parking and traffic issues. “Parking in the area will increase from the current 387 cars to 520 cars, which according to our traffic consultants will be sufficient to meet the needs of both the pool and the athletic fields,” Ganje wrote in an email. “Our plans include removal of the dangerous intersection of Jessamine and Lexington Parkway; design of a new entrance to the pool at the existing traffic signal at Como and Lexington; a new shuttle stop for the pool along Horton; and new pedestrian/bicycle trail connections, minimizing the reliance on the automobile as the only alternative to get to the new pool.”
Art Oglesby said the key to making the new pool work would be a shuttle system, but he said it’s going to be difficult to convince people not to use their cars. He suggested that the park offer shuttle riders a free drink or ride if they use public transportation. “The question is,” he said, “how do you get them to change their behavior?”
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