After outdoor pool discussions, Y Director speaks about locations

WORTHINGTON - During the last Worthington City Council meeting, the council narrowly passed approval for a water park site, making the decision to put it at the site of the current city aquatic center as opposed to the old outdoor pool site. The decision is not final approval, but gives staff authority to explore the idea with Minnesota West, Minnesota State and the YMCA Board.

The decision made by the council was not without contention during the discussion. Mayor Mike Kuhle said the city needs to do a better job marketing the fact that the current aquatic center at the YMCA is owned by the city and open to the public - not just Y members. The Y has an operating agreement with the city that allows them to collect revenue from swim lessons and day passes, but also leaves the Y responsible for staffing, programming, repairs and utilities.

The current pool at the Y opened the year after the old outdoor pool near the lake was closed, according to YMCA CEO and Executive Director Andy Johnson. The old outdoor pool was city-owned, but operated by the YMCA. The general consensus is that a new aquatic center, wherever it was located, would also be operated by the Y, Johnson said, unless the city is willing to hire on an aquatics department.

One of the big reasons the committee and the city council like the Y for the site is because operational and construction costs would be less, allowing for more of the funds to be spent on features of the water park.

"Having things on the separate sites - again, I was part of that when the old outdoor pool was in operation - can work," Johnson said. "But it will be more costly and takes a little more management because you're shifting staff from two different locations instead of rotating people in one large location."

The current pool has always been open to anyone, and residents of Worthington even get a price break.

"If you don't want to be a Y member and you want to come in and use the pool seven days a week, you absolutely can do that," Johnson said.

The normal fee is $5 for youth, $10 for adults and $18 for a family. Worthington residents are charge $4 for youth, $8 for adults and $14 for family. There are summer passes for youth that run from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and there is also an annual pool only membership. Day passes and summer passes include use of the entire Y facility, and youth passes can be subject to scholarship funding for those in need.

"If the city does this separately, which I don't think is of benefit to the community, there will be fixed fees. There won't be scholarships or the ability to use the whole facility," Johnson said.

Johnson said there are valid arguments for both locations, but if the water park is built at the Y, there would be new locker and changing rooms added with a separate entrance, and people would still have access to the whole facility. And regardless of revenues and expenses, there will still likely need to be a taxpayer subsidy, Johnson said, because outdoor pools are not revenue generators. But the proposed center will be an enhanced amenity to the city, he said.

"The decisions being made are not being made for just today and tomorrow," Johnson said. "They are being made for many years to come. All the new amenities - this is just one piece of them. I thinks it's just another positive move for our community."

The new aquatic center will be paid for with the half cent local option sales tax that was voter approved.

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