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On their first trip to Redwood Community Pool in Apple Valley since they were young kids, Lucas and Berk Benson took turns doing front flips off the diving board.

The brothers have an aboveground pool at home, but they came from Burnsville on a family visit Friday.

"It's bigger and deeper, and we can jump off the diving board," 12-year-old Lucas said.

It's the last summer for the brothers to swim in the pool — or at least this version of it. Next year, the 58-year-old attraction will be razed and rebuilt, one of a growing list of municipal pools that were constructed as the suburbs boomed in the 1950s and 1960s and are now showing their age.

From Shakopee to Crystal, Twin Cities communities are wrestling with whether to make repairs or spend millions to replace their pools, all while dealing with the increasing costs of operating them. Cities have spent from $60,000 to more than $250,000 annually subsidizing their pools; costs are rarely covered by admission fees.

Still, aquatic facilities rank high on cities' lists of sought-after amenities, said Brad Aldrich, principal landscape architect for Confluence, a landscape architecture and design firm with Minneapolis offices. "Most communities that have pools are choosing to reinvest in them."

Shakopee leaders this year agreed to spend $7 million to rebuild the city's sand-bottomed pool, add new amenities and replace the old pool building — though City Administrator Bill Reynolds cautioned previously that the pool was a "money suck."

It may come at a cost to future swimmers; city staff have proposed increasing admission to stay competitive and "account for the additional amenities," a city memo said.

"[SandVenture Aquatic Park] is one of our most popular and most-loved amenities," said Kelsi McNutt, Shakopee's parks and recreation director. "I think that recreation services are one of the reasons why people may choose to live in one community over another."

People relax and swim at the Family Aquatic Center in Apple Valley on Friday, June 14, 2024.
People relax and swim at the Family Aquatic Center in Apple Valley on Friday, June 14, 2024.

Leila Navidi, Star Tribune

West St. Paul has contracted with an outside firm to complete a study on its 1950s-era community pool. The analysis will identify the necessary basic upgrades, though the city could opt for an expansion, too.

Pool attendance has "really ticked up" since the pandemic and set records in 2023, said Eric Weiss, West St. Paul's parks and recreation director.

Officials want to avoid "band-aid" repairs that would just require replacement in a few years, he said, and will look for grants, state funding and partnerships for assistance.

"It's an art and a science of trying to figure our how we can provide the amenity and make the numbers work," Weiss said. "We are definitely not going to leave any couch cushion unturned."

Paying for the pool

Aldrich, who worked with Shakopee and Apple Valley on their plans, said pool technology has "come quite a ways" over the past 10 to 15 years. While a diving board and lap pool once were the main amenities, many facilities now look like "a mini Wisconsin Dells." They can feature ziplines, obstacle courses, zero-depth entries and all kinds of slides — even one known as a "fly high" slide that launches kids into the air.

The cost of repairing or remodeling a pool ranges from $1.5 million to $4 million, Aldrich said, while building an all-new facility can run as much as $35 million. Cities use everything from bonding dollars to private grants and referendums to pay for pools, he said.

Apple Valley may be the only Twin Cities suburb with two large pools: Redwood Community Pool and the Apple Valley Family Aquatic Center. City voters last fall approved a two-part $73 million parks bond proposal, and about $15 million will be spent on pool updates, said Eric Carlson, the city's parks and recreation director.

Redwood will get a new pool and support building, and the 25-year-old Aquatic Center will see updated filters and mechanical systems, a replastered pool shell and new play features.

"I think it's safe to say that residents do think they're important ... or they would have voted 'no'," Carlson said.

Melissa Abrahams of Savage watches as her son Edison, 3, jumps in at Redwood Community Pool in Apple Valley, Minn. on Friday, June 14, 2024.
Melissa Abrahams of Savage watches as her son Edison, 3, jumps in at Redwood Community Pool in Apple Valley, Minn. on Friday, June 14, 2024.

Leila Navidi, Star Tribune

Redwood has lost money since the aquatic center opened — an average of $63,000 annually over 10 years — but money made at the aquatic center covers that loss, Carlson said. And, he said, that margin gets narrower each year.

In South St. Paul, Northview Pool will open in the coming weeks after officials patched a leak that was costing about $20,000 per year in lost water.

Fixing just the most critical repairs would cost the city $1.3 million, and repairing the old pool isn't an option, officials said this spring.

The city will fund a feasibility study to determine next steps, said Shannon Young, the city's parks and recreation director.

"I want to see an aquatics center in our town; the kids deserve it," Young said, adding that the city watched Apple Valley's referendum with interest. "We'll look at every avenue we can to come up with funds."

In the north metro, construction at Crystal Cove in Crystal began this week. The main pool is being replaced for just less than $6 million to address a sizable leak, said John Elholm, the city's recreation director. He said the pool building's lobby and service counter are being "freshened up" for about $700,000.

A new section of the pool will be reduced to 3 feet deep so "middle-aged youth" who are too big for the shallow end but too short for the deep end will have a place to hang out, Elholm said.

The city subsidized the pool about $60,000 per year from 2016 to 2019, but that cost grew by several hundred thousand dollars annually in recent years because of the leak. When the pool reopens in 2025, operating costs will decrease significantly, he said

In a survey, 85% of respondents said they supported Crystal using about $3 million from its long-term pool fund to make necessary fixes to Crystal Cove. The pool project also received $2.35 million from the state Legislature in 2023 and a $300,000 Hennepin Youth Activities grant.

The project "would be really difficult to do" without outside funding, Elholm said.