Lisa Meyer, St. Joseph
Awhile back a friend of mine posted a link on Facebook to a survey regarding interest in St. Joseph for a splash pad. As a mother of two, I happily participated in the survey because I felt our family could benefit from something closer to home than the splash pads in Waite Park or Lake George. However, the term “water amenity” has been used recently to describe plans and discussions that have evolved from this survey, rather than the splash pad I thought I was supporting. I was given the impression the survey was for a general assessment of interest, not one that would be used to begin making specific concrete plans for the immediate future.
I felt the need to write because some major issues are being neglected in the discussion of the proposed water amenity, which is really a small water park. I have two major concerns: the first is cost and the second is unforeseen issues with use.
With regards to cost, I simply want to point out the long-term expense of upkeep and insurance for a pool and water park-like facility have not truly been discussed or studied and are far greater than a splash pad. Even if there is no tax increase and the funds that can build such a water park or pool are not needed elsewhere, the burden to pay for the cost to run, maintain and insure will rest on the town if attendance does not pay for it. This is why many communities are opting for splash pads instead of pools. I grew up in a town that had to tear down their outdoor pool because the cost for insurance and maintenance outweighed revenue it brought and it became too expensive for the city to keep open. I recall reading not long ago the Foley pool, which was mentioned as a comparison by another reader last week, has been struggling financially with regard to their pool and its use for similar reasons and has had to levy property taxes to maintain it’s $120,000/year cost, so it’s actually a good example of my concern about long-term costs and insurance.
Also, who will use a water park in St. Joseph that charges attendance? Will local families be able to afford it on a regular basis and will that generate enough revenue? If not, will funds be needed to advertise to bring in visitors so it doesn’t unnecessarily burden the community? Can a local survey determine if it will draw enough outside visitors to pay for it otherwise? Most importantly: Is this larger-scaled (version) desired by the community?
With regards to my second concern regarding use for a modest water park or pool in St. Joseph, I would like to point out Community Education through District 742 provides swimming at St. Ben’s pool for those who wish access to a pool and larger facility in town. Also, both Waite Park and Lake George have free splash pads that are really not that far in terms of driving, other pools for public use exist in the Greater St. Cloud area, and within about an hour’s drive there are other water parks similar to what is planned for use year-round and in the summer.
The draw for me when responding to the survey was an accessible splash pad in town that members of the community can safely walk or bike to. I would never let my children bike to a facility that is across a busy road such as the increasingly commercial area on the other side of 75, or on the edge of town, and I would not let them go to a water park or pool on their own regardless of location.
On the other hand, a splash pad is something that is more akin to playground equipment that could safely and affordably be incorporated into one of our current parks or even, perhaps, make use of the area near Colt Academy with significantly smaller upkeep and expense required. I also think it’s a large presumption to assume everyone in our community would desire a water park or pool simply as a way to make money and draw visitors to our town. The survey did not in any way present itself as being about a means of bringing business to town, and I think it could dramatically change the atmosphere and traffic in our community if it were to proceed as proposed.
Simply put: Does St. Joseph really need anything more than a splash pad located in one of our pre-existing parks or open spaces in the center of town? My opinion is no. I do not feel the group who has been outspoken in their momentum for this larger water amenity represents the entire community or even those of us who took the survey on this issue.
This is a good idea that has gotten carried away into a far bigger facility than our town needs without adequate information gathering and community input from a properly administered survey. A centrally located, free splash pad is a great idea. An expensive mini-water park is not only going to have long-term costs, liability and upkeep, it also runs the risk of ultimately not being in the best interest of our community.