By Travis Gulbrandson
Last year, the City of Vermillion unveiled plans for an approximately $6 million water park to replace the pool at Prentis Park.
Now it looks as if those plans could be changing.
Parks & Recreation Director Jim Goblirsch spoke with the city council during its special meeting Monday afternoon, where he expressed his concerns about cost, the lack of an overall parks plan and the ability of the community to support a facility of that proposed size.
“This is a big, big facility,” Goblirsch said. “I don’t know if you’re going to support that. When you say $6 million, that means additional lifeguards, additional water.”
The facility was designed in cooperation with Water’s Edge Aquatic Design of Lenexa, KS, after residents and city officials were polled about the kinds of amenities and features they wanted to see, in addition to a new swimming pool.
Last August it was announced that the main recreational pool area would have a spray area for toddlers, an interactive play structure with different activities on it, a water walk with tethered floatation devices, a 25-year lap lane area and springboard diving.
The other pool section would feature a lazy river and a plunge pool with different slide structures.
“Our swimming pool committee did a great job,” said city manager John Prescott. “They did cut some things out of there, but we ended up settling on a project that is about $6 million. Maybe it’s something we need to figure out what it is that we can afford, and try to develop a plan around that.
“I think you would see some of the same features, but you may not see all of the same features if we needed to do that,” he said.
Although no action was taken, Prescott did mention the possibility of having residents vote on the issuing of general obligation bonds toward the completion of the project.
A malt beverage mark-up also was brought forward as a possibility of acquiring funds, although council president Kent Osborne said he would not be in favor of it in this case.
“I’m not necessarily in favor of it if it’s all going to be at the expense of expanding government, and a lot of money’s going to go to the person or people who have to administrate this,” Osborne said. “To me, the administration is more than it’s worth. It’s more than it’s worth to the public in the perception of it, and it’s more than it’s worth for what we’re going to get out of it.
“If there’s a way to fix that, fantastic. If there isn’t, I don’t really see that as a viable funding source,” he said.
Goblirsch said that if the right “tweaks” were made to the project, it could end up costing much less than $6 million to complete.
“I don’t think it’s a bad plan,” he said. “I just think there’s a possibility of putting something that’s really, really nice up there for $1-$2 million less.”
To this end, Goblirsch said he has been talking with another business that designs pools, Associated Pool Builders, which is located in Bismarck, ND.
“They’re one of the leaders up here in the industry,” Goblirsch said. “They do a ton of pools, and they have a pretty good support staff that can help give us some information, just to get a second opinion on what kind of size you could use here.
“On a 95-degree day, of course, your pool’s going to be busy and full, but not always do we have 95-degree days,” he said. “There are plenty of 80-degree days, which are beautiful and sunny, but not everybody goes to the pool. What capacity do we really need that pool to be?”
In addition to the pool, Goblirsch said there are other considerations that need to be made to Prentis Park overall, including the management of trees and increased demand for parking, in addition to how the basketball courts, horseshoe pits and disc golf courses would be affected by the water park.
“We just want to have a chance to get a master plan in place for that park,” he said. “We know the baseball field’s not moving, we know the water tower’s not moving, we know the band shell’s not moving. The rest of it can be open for discussion.”
Council member John Grayson said he liked the idea of a master plan, as it affords some time to get a second opinion and for further study to be done, resulting in data that can be presented to the public.
Council member Steve Ward added, though, that the project needed to get moving.
“A year and a half we’ve been working on this, and the community is expecting something, some action,” Ward said. “So I really don’t want to come out of here saying, ‘Well, we’re going to delay this for another year.’ …
“I’ve had reservations about it for a number of reasons, but I also want it to move. I don’t want to just sit around and wait,” he said.
City staff had proposed the use of $500,000 from the general fund reserves for the project, which Mayor Jack Powell said Monday would send the message to Vermillion residents that the city is serious about it.
Council member Kelsey Collier-Wise suggested setting a goal of a specific completion or date so that there would be something to launch forward with the public.
“I do think there are people who would be interested in doing some private fundraising, and they’re just waiting because they don’t even know if we’re going ahead with this,” she said. “If we’re having a definitive statement that says, ‘This is our plan, this money is starting it,’ that we can show the public, I think it would address some of their concerns.”
Goblirsch is next scheduled to meet with the city council on Tuesday, Sept. 3.