by Logan Gruber
The April 20 St. Joseph City Council meeting was overflowing with people looking to comment on and learn more about the proposed water amenity, so much so that the conference room next to the council chambers was set up with a television so people could watch from in there.
The council set time in the schedule to take input from the community on the water amenity issue but planned not to take any action on the input at this time.
Back on April 6, the city council chose to approve and move forward on the documents presented by Tom Schaffer of USAquatics. The estimated cost of the next step in this process is $71,000. The total cost of the water amenity is estimated at $6.14 million, with operating costs estimated at $254,000 annually. A study proposes charging $6 per entry.
Included in the concept are a multi-use pool with one- and three-meter diving boards; grassy lounge areas; a lazy river; three water slides; rental tents; water geysers and an aqua fort on a splash pad; a covered seating area; changing rooms; a concession stand; a zip line; and shade structures. The design also calls for heated water.
The preferred site chosen by the committee for the water amenity is north of Hwy 75 on CR 133, though no land purchases have been made.
Mayor Rick Schultz attempted to set a five-minute maximum on speakers for commenting, but most had so much to say they went over the loosely enforced limit. The input session lasted from about 6:40-8:40 p.m.
In general, most vocal supporters were parents or young parents looking for their children to have more to do during the summer lull. They are interested in having a water feature close to home that their children can walk or bike to on their own, one that is outdoors or at least partially outdoors.
And generally most opponents weren’t truly opponents but were more interested in pumping the brakes on the project to allow for more public comment and examination of priorities. Most were concerned as to how the committee went from a splash pad to a large aquatics center with multiple pools and also how the water amenity seems to have come along much faster than a proposal for a community center or police station.
“I’m a little confused,” Joe Vogel said, “by the last [council] meeting, where [USAquatics] said they were neutral, but at the end of the presentation they were written a check for $71,000?”
Vogel continued, saying he is not for or against the water amenity, but he does want the process slowed down.
“$6 million is too much,” he said.
Former council member Steve Frank wondered why, when a professional facilitator was involved with the community-center project, didn’t the community center and police station come ahead of the water amenity in the council’s business.
Frank was also concerned about other costs the city would be encountering during the coming years.
“We have [more than] a mile of clay pipes under the streets . . . it’s gonna cost a fortune [to replace],” he said.
He also noted the public-works department will need more workers to staff the water amenity, and he wanted to know why USAquatics wouldn’t build and run the center privately if it is a good investment.
“I’d even be willing to give them tax breaks,” Frank said.
Amanda Degeest Lopau, a 12-year resident of St. Joseph, said there is nothing for her kids to do during the summer, and she thinks it will only get worse.
“I understand there are pools in St. Cloud, but my kids can’t walk there, I can’t bring them there,” Lopau said.
“Right now, to go to a water park of the proposed size, I drive my kids 1.5 hours and pay way more than $6,” Michelle Killam added. Killam is the wife of city council member Matt Killam.
“I think we’re hearing they want something for their kids to do for the summer,” Ellen Wahlstrom said, “And that speaks to a community center.”
Joanne Schneider said she has been in St. Joseph for 33 years, and she has been asking for a pool for nearly 33 years too. She noted her family drives past Becker, which has an indoor water park, to go to outdoor water amenities.
“And I really think it ought to be on this side of [Hwy] 75 . . . I don’t see kids biking to McDonald’s, and kids love McDonald’s,” Schneider added.
“Take your time and do it right,” Bill Durrwachter urged.
If a water amenity is to be built, Durrwachter would like to see it covered so it can produce revenue for 12 months out of the year instead of just three.
Bruce Bechtold of St. Wendel Township said he thought this was the most progressive idea St. Joseph has ever had.
Tom Maddox brought up the danger of Hwy 75. He said in the past, the idea of tunneling under the road had been looked at, and he said tunneling or some other solution does need to be revisited if something like this is going to move forward.
“I personally don’t think the splash pad in west Waite Park is that far away,” said Jerry Klaphake, a 38-year resident.
Klaphake also noted all of his children took swimming lessons at the College of St. Benedict and wondered if the city could look into using the facilities already on hand.
“I think the city has a lot of issues in front of it besides an aquatics center,” Klaphake said. “The best buys out there right now are existing properties . . . strike a deal with the school district for [old Kennedy, now Colts Academy] and decide what to do after that.”
Ron Eine was concerned somehow the aquatics center had jumped ahead of all other priorities, and the idea of putting money into savings for a few years wouldn’t be a bad idea while plans take shape.
Tim Borresch got a laugh when he said, “I’m bummed out because I had things to say, and they all said it!”
Borresch did say the city needs to start prioritizing, and “savings is a good way to go.”
“This thing started as a splash pad . . . and it morphed into a white elephant,” Bob Lyon said. “For that kind of money, you could buy [every resident] a pool, and have money left over!”
Jen Warnert of St. Wendel Township read multiple letters in support of the proposed water amenity from people who could not make it to the meeting.
“I grew up playing with pots and pans,” she said, speaking for herself, “riding my bike, being with my friends and my mom didn’t know where I was . . . We can’t do that anymore.”
Margy Hughes said she thinks we need to get St. Joseph’s parks and recreation going again, and she’d like to see kids getting busy in town.
Steve Frank added to that, mentioning there used to be a recreation director and suggesting it might be a position that could be brought back.
“There are a lot of things coming to a head here,” Schultz said.
At 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 29, the city council will hold a special meeting to talk about its priorities. The meeting is open to the public.
Colts Academy purchase
The council is hosting a closed meeting in the next week or so to discuss the ongoing negotiations with the St. Cloud School District to purchase the old Kennedy building, now named Colts Academy.
“We’re not buying the school,” Schultz said. “We opened negotiations with the district, that’s all . . . The negotiations kind of throw a wrench into where we go with a community center.”
For more information on the proposed water amenity, search thenewsleaders.com for past articles and letters to the editor.