ROCHESTER – Rochester leaders are poised to expand a pool at one of the city's prominent parks into a full-blown aquatics center — lazy river and all.
The Rochester City Council indicated Monday it supported the $20 million project at Soldiers Field Memorial Park, which could start construction this spring if all goes well. No official action was taken, but the council is expected to sign off on final schematics and project bids over the next few months.
The project features a 50-meter pool, lazy river, water slides, a splash pad area and wading pool, as well as a redesigned bathhouse. Two concepts featured the same overall amenities, but council members and local swimming advocates favored the one that wouldn't affect the golf course at Soldiers Field.
"It really felt like a win-win," said Nick Miller, who lives near Soldiers Field and is part of the co-design task force behind the project.
Rochester will fund the project using $10 million in Destination Medical Center funding, $5 million in federal grant money and up to $7 million in parks and recreation referendum money. If construction begins this spring, the project will wrap up in time for the 2024 swim season.
City officials say it's unclear whether pool fees will increase as a result of the project; Mike Nigbur of the Parks and Recreation Department said staffers will work with local groups to determine whether a fee increase is needed.
The new aquatics center is part of a larger effort to expand recreation facilities in Rochester. The city recently finalized 10-year master plans for Soldiers Field and Silver Lake Park, and council members on Monday night reapproved a $200 million local sales tax request of the Minnesota Legislature, $65 million of which would fund a large-scale recreation center.
An expanded pool would also provide more swim time for residents, which swimming advocates say is sorely needed in a growing city with little access to pools or other places to swim.
Miller said he has waited in long lines to go swimming at Soldiers Field in the past. Yet he said he hasn't wanted to swim at Stewartville or other nearby communities with pool facilities.
"I really value Soldiers Field as one of my favorite places in town year-round," Miller said.
Several council members offered tweaks to the designs. Shaun Palmer said he'd rather see the current bathhouse replaced than renovated, while Molly Dennis urged the city to design the pool with future diving boards in mind — bringing the deepest part of the pool from 8 feet to 12 feet.
"If we're going to put this kind of money in … we should do this project right," she said.
Nigbur said the co-design task force didn't prioritize a diving area at the pool due to liability issues and the amount of space it would take up, which would cut down on pool access.
"You're taking away a third of the pool, 25 percent of the pool to accommodate that," he said.