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Local Residents Working Towards Constructing Outdoor Aquatics Center

By Staff | Jan 10, 2008

For many local residents, a part of growing up was swimming in a pool under a bright, sunny sky during the summer. Today, a group of area residents, calling themselves the Emmetsburg Aquatics Center Project Committee, are planning a community meeting on Tuesday, Jan.29 to discuss the possibility of constructing an outdoor aquatics facility in Emmetsburg.

This group of local residents has been discussing and working on an initiative called the Emmetsburg Outdoor Aquatics Project, which could potentially bring an outdoor, supervised aquatics center to Emmetsburg. The talks about such a project date back to 2004, and over the last few years, the group has grown in size and has been discussing the potential need for such a facility. At the same time, the group has been looking into the various issues and questions that are related to such a project.

“Many of us have young children and the need is obvious for this type of facility,” noted committee member Diane Brennan. “We frequent the Graettinger and Spencer pools in the summer and they are normally full of Emmetsburg families during the week and on the weekends.”

Those comments are not singular.

“We have been to Spencer’s and Algona’s facilities, and you do see many Emmetsburg families utilizing those aquatic facilities,” agreed Scott Wirtz, another member of the committee.

The entire committee is in strong agreement that Emmetsburg has a top-notch existing indoor pool facility in the Smith Wellness Center to support Fall, Winter and Spring swimming activities. However, the committee feels that a new outdoor aquatics facility could act as a strong, new addition to the range of family aquatics offerings in the community.

This new facility could potentially offer zero-depth entry for small children, several water slides, appealing to all age levels, and various amenities that could be utilized for recreation and rehabilitation purposes. It would also offer deep water for diving and lap swimming would not be necessary, as that option is already available in the existing indoor pool at the Smith Wellness Center.

Another benefit of an outdoor pool would be as an economic development retention tool for the community.

“When families are going out of town for water recreation, they tend to spend money in their destination communities,” noted Rick Brennan.

With communities such as Graettinger, Algona, Spencer, Humboldt, Glidden and Clarion all building new outdoor aquatics facilities, the facilities have proven to be not only economic retention tools for those communities, but also serve as great people attractions for a community.

In a small town, the swimming pool has always been a center of activities during the summer for youth. For many years, the old Emmetsburg Swimming Pool in Soper Park was such a center of activity, and a new aquatics center could re-create such an opportunity for the community.

Like any major undertaking such as an aquatics center, there are lots of questions to be answered. Location, cost, who would operate the facility and ongoing financial support are key questions that are being examined by the Emmetsburg Aquatics Center Project Committee. The group has been working with an aquatics design firm, Larkin Aquatics, of Kansas City.

“Larkin Aquatics brings over 60 years of experience to the table,” noted Julie Elbert, a member of the committee. “They have worked on over 600 pool projects in the upper Midwest in that time. Not only do they have great credentials, they also have solid endorsements from Parks and Recreation directors in Algona and Mason City, which are two recent projects Larkin completed.”

After visiting with officials from Larkin Aquatics, the committee decided a feasibility study, along with a community aquatics needs study would be necessary in order to define the project. To conduct the studies, $7,000 was raised through donations from several businesses, organizations and individuals in the community.

The community needs and analysis survey looked at the feasibility of an outdoor aquatics center, possible locations and amenities of the facility. A total of 1,500 surveys were distributed, with a 15 percent response, much better than the normal three to five percent responses for similar surveys in other communities.

In the survey, some 85 percent of the respondents indicated they felt some type of outdoor, supervised aquatics facility was need in the community, and that the best location for such a facility would be adjacent to the Smith Wellness Center.

The study also estimated initial costs of $2.1 million for construction, along with a $500,000 endowment for future operating expenses. The Emmetsburg Aquatics Center Project Committee has also started to explore various funding sources and options, such as a capital campaign, grant funding, bonding options and individual dues and memberships.

Results of the survey also noted that the best location, in the opinion of most respondents, was adjacent to the Smith Wellness Center.

If a facility were to be located adjacent to the Smith Wellness Center, the Emmetsburg Aquatics Center Project Committee would suggest that Iowa Lakes Community College and the City of Emmetsburg would jointly own the facilities, with the college operating the facility. Such an arrangement would provide continuity in terms of quality of service and staffing, and could also potentially provide an aquatics membership for patrons of both indoor and outdoor facilities.

“While this is just a proposal, further study is needed by the City of Emmetsburg as well as Iowa Lakes Community College, “ noted Rick Brennan. “The committee feels that the Smith Wellness Center would benefit from additional usage in the summer and a potential increase in memberships and revenues.”

“Our hope and goal is to bring the City of Emmetsburg and Iowa Lakes Community College together to partner on this proposal and form a joint committee to take the ball and run with it, from the work down by the Emmetsburg Aquatics Center Project Committee,” committee member Todd Ditch said.

The Emmetsburg Aquatics Center Project Committee and Larkin Aquatics have taken a painstaking approach to try and anticipate and understand potential issues of this project before making any recommendations. Now, the committee wants to share what they have learned with the public. An informational community meeting for this project is planned for Tuesday, Jan. 29 at 7 p.m. in the gym at the Smith Wellness Center. A presentation on the project will be made at that time, and a question and answer session will follow with committee members. The public is encouraged to attend this meeting.