On Wednesday afternoon, the Merrill Parks and Recreation Commission unanimously approved a plan to move forward with a new municipal pool at the Merrill Area Recreation Complex.
Since the closure of the Merrill Municipal pool in 2012, the commission had considered various options, but had yet to formulate a cost-effective definitive plan.
During Wednesday’s meeting however, Parks and Recreation Director Dan Wendorf revealed new information which set the wheels in motion for a new pool.
“We have received some unique information over the last week and a half,” Wendorf stated at the start of the meeting. “A potential anonymous donor has come forward with a donation of approximately four million dollars for the construction of an outdoor pool. Along with the offer are two pieces of information with a tight timeline.”
The donation stipulated a location and a pool design be decided prior to their next meeting on Sept. 12.
The commission examined a preliminary pool design of approximately 100x200 feet, borrowed from a similar design planned in Nora Springs, Iowa.
According to Wendorf, this design would cost an estimated $3.5 million. The design includes a “zero depth area” and splash pad for young children as well as volleyball and basketball nets for older children and adults. The design also includes parking areas and bathrooms.
“This would be a more complex but simplistic design than others we have considered,” Wendforf said.
“What I like most about this design is there are a lot of things available for small children,” commented commission member Dave Sukow, after looking over the design. “The last pool we had was very limited in that aspect.”
While the commission appeared unanimous in approval of a preliminary design, that wasn’t the case when deciding a location.
Commission member Ralph Sturm spoke in strong favor of Stange’s Park for a location. Sturm felt efforts should continue in trying to work with FEMA on getting a variance. Sturm also suggested cutting down the hill and still putting the new pool in the same location as the old one. Dorwin Harris suggested the pool could be built where the current parking lot is at the park, and the pump houses could be built on the hill.
City Administrator Dave Johnson stated that if the area were to flood, the flood water would go into the pool and in the long run cause more clean up of the pool. When asked by Sturm, an audience member familiar with such permits stated it would be unlikely that FEMA would grant a permit. The guest also stated a permit could take as long as 90 days to be approved. Johnson also pointed out the high costs associated with demolishing the existing pool.
Another option considered was the MARC.
“We have been trying to put it at Stange’s for a while now,” added commission member Brian Artac “We have gotten nowhere.”
“My concern about the MARC is 80 out of 90 days of the summer it is so windy out there,” commented Harris. “This donation is great, but we need to do this right and in an economic manner.”
“No matter where we put the pool, the people of Merrill have no idea what the maintenance costs will be,” Sturm countered. “The same happened with the library and the fire station. These people can’t afford these luxuries!"
"These investments are a prideful thing,” Wendorf replied.”They create recreational opportunities for our community and our visitors.
“During all the public hearings, and through all the feedback I've received; people want a pool! I have only heard a couple people say no to a pool," Wendorf added.
Further discussion included possible construction of a wind break if a pool were to be built at the MARC, as well as the availability of open area for possible future expansion; such an aqua center.
In the end, the commission voted unanimously to build a new pool at the MARC. The commission also voted unanimously to move forward on the preliminary design of a pool, contingent upon potential funding approval from the donor. The criteria must be approved by the donor before any further action can be taken. The Common Council must then approve receiving the donation. Johnson stated the council could possibly hold a special meeting, after the Sept. 12 donor meeting. If all goes as planned, the pool could be operational as early as 2016.
“I am absolutely thrilled this donation came forward!” Wendorf said following the meeting. “This is a fantastic opportunity and will be an outstanding addition to our community. This donation will make our dream a reality and will allow our community to enjoy this pool 3-5 earlier than if we did grass roots fund raising.”
“We did very seriously take into consideration everyone’s input at the public hearing,” Wendorf added. “Stange’s Park is a fantastic location. All the variables that are attached to Stange’s with the flood plain issues, permit issues and additional costs that comes with that; along with result of the flood study, would have made it virtually impossible to build at Stange’s.”