Proposed New Hope pool plan is a belly flop for some community members

Megan McClellan, right, rallies New Hope residents and nonresidents Aug. 14 at Civic Center Park to voice interest in keeping the existing Milton C. Honsey pool as is. After gathering in the park, approximately 40 individuals entered city hall to addressed the council during an open forum. (Sun Post staff photo by Gina Purcell)

An outspoken group of pool users hope to drown New Hope City Council’s proposed plans to relocate the Milton C. Honsey outdoor pool to the current city hall location, to reduce the lap pool from 50 meters to 25 meters and to add several water feature, including a lazy river.
Approximately 40 residents and nonresidents gathered at Civic Center Park, adjacent to city hall and the pool, Aug. 14 to discuss the city’s proposed plans before speaking at the council’s open forum.
Megan McClellan, a Minneapolis homeowner who lives with her parents in New Hope part-time to care for her brother with special needs, cannot understand why the city would even think to get rid of the existing pool.
“I’m asking that you reconsider your options,” she said.
According to McClellan, the city is approving plans to move into the design phase for a new building before determining if the $8.5 million budgeted for a new pool is enough money for such improvements.
“Now we have a city staff who want to move forward before getting feedback from a substantial number of pool users,” she said.
McClellan claimed that less than 5 percent of pool users were included in the survey city staff and council referenced during the planning process.
Frustrated by the numbers, she took to the pool deck to gather her own data, talking with lap swimmers, swim lesson patrons, open swimmers, season pass holders, lifeguards, swim teachers, pool staff and youth.
“In one day I collected 150 names of people who wanted to be informed and wanted their opinions heard, badly enough that they handed over their personal information to a complete stranger,” she said. “What do pool improvements mean to us? It certainly does not mean a lazy river even with the understanding that a lazy river can be used for therapeutic exercise and possibly swim lessons. We do not believe adding a bunch of water park type features to our pool will improve our experience.”
Colleen Ueland grew up in New Hope, and now lives elsewhere but continues to bring her children to New Hope’s pool.
“Theres no other pool anywhere around just like it,” she said. “These other ideas are the trends and as other people have pointed out, why do we want to be trendy? It’s New Hope. Why should we be trendy now? It’s a great community. It’s an amazing pool.”
Tom Franke, of Plymouth, coached the New Hope swim team from 1989 to 1996. Since 2011, he has coached another swim team and rents pool time at New Hope.
“I see the need for a community program that has a kids area that the kids can play in,” he said. “I see that. But I don’t know why they have to get rid of 50 meters of water. I think they can have a zero depth entry with an area where kids can play and keep that as is.”
According to Franke, several swimmers he coached over the years from the New Hope area went on to earn major college scholarships.
“It’s given them a place to achieve their dreams,” he said. “You can’t do that if you lose this pool.”
Franke said multiple 50 meter pools have closed throughout the Twin Cities, including Anoka, St. Louis Park, Crystal and two in Minneapolis. The only other 50 meter pool worth practicing in is in Bloomington, according to him.
Other attendees like that the pool accommodates children and adults of all ages, that parents can see all of their children no matter what age or area of the pool they play in, that it is heated and that it is not cluttered with water features but allows people to actually swim.
At least 15 individuals signed up to speak in front of the council. The open forum, which is not to exceed 15 minutes in length, according to city code, lasted approximately 40 minutes.
Mayor Kathi Hemken addressed the audience after the public statements.
“This facility is very inadequate for our police cars and for our staff,” she said. “When we did soil borings, the only place that would sustain a building that size is over there where the pool is so that was the reason behind that. We don’t have anyplace else to put the new city hall. That’s the only place it will go and that’s from Stantec (the city’s engineering consultant).”
Councilmember Jonathan London interrupted Hemken to say, “That’s not true.”
For 15 seconds, Hemken attempted to continue speaking while London continued talking over her. Councilmember Eric Lammle repeatedly called for a point of order, which conversation should cease all conversation until the call to order is evaluated, according to council policy.
London argued that Hemken was misinforming the attendees and that the pool site was not the only location a new city facility could be located.
“Let’s be honest,” he said. “It’s not the only place …”
Before Hemken moved on to the meeting agenda, she assured attendees that city staff and the council love the existing pool but in order to have a new facility, the pool must move.
In May, the council reviewed options for a new outdoor pool at the existing city hall site. Overall, the council was in favor of finding a pool that stayed within the $8.5 million budget.
In June, the city hosted an open house to gain resident feedback on two pool and two park concepts.
According to city staff, approximately 50 people attended the open house.
A survey was provided at the open house, online and was available at city hall. By the July 21 deadline, 18 paper and 43 online surveys were submitted. Of those, 13 were completed by nonresidents.
According to the survey, 67 percent of respondents, 84 percent of which were residents, favored pool concept one, which includes a lazy river, diving well and lap swimming area for approximately $8.8 million.
The other 33 percent of respondents favored pool concept two, noting the importance of a 50-meter pool. Concept two would cost approximately $8.2 million.
City staff members mentioned that several respondents thought both concepts included too many amenities.
The council was scheduled to review survey results Aug. 21.