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Proposal for Aquatic Center swimming along

The dust appears to be settling around long-debated proposals concerning a new aquatic center in Rice Lake. Now, a nonprofit is diving into a project to build two new indoor pools for the Rice Lake schools and community, with plans calling for the existing community swimming pool area to be renovated into a recreation and fitness center.

The Rice Lake Public Swimming Pool, a joint venture between the city and school district, was built in the late 1970s. But the the internal mechanical systems are original to the facility, and the locker rooms haven’t stood the test of time, said Pat Blackaller, Rice Lake Area School District finance director.

When swimmers enter the pool building, they have two choices: Go into the women’s locker room or the men’s. That doesn’t address the wants of a mother bringing in her young boy, or dad coming with a young girl. Which do they choose? It could be uncomfortable for them and the people in the locker room both. Plus the rooms are open spaces and afford no privacy.

“You know, in today’s sensibilities, people don’t tend to like to undress in front of other people,” Blackaller said.

And this doesn’t touch on the needs of transgender individuals or people who have medical issues who want privacy. Plus some older individuals simply don’t want to change in front of teens. The new facilities will have family changing rooms as well as community and student locker rooms.

Hence plans have been made for a brand-new aquatic center to be built to the west of Hilltop Elementary School and the existing public pool, which will not only incorporate updated community locker rooms, but include two pools — one for lap and competitive swimming, the other for community recreation and fitness use.

The reasoning behind two pools comes down to water temperature. Athletes want cooler temps as their body heat rises during practice and competition, but community members seek temps more comfortable to leisurely activities, water exercises and physical therapy. The current pool temperature is kept mid-way between the two, basically making nobody happy.

The cost to renovate the existing building pushes $5.5 million, while the construction of the new facility with two pools is projected to cost $7.5 million. If the existing pool was to be renovated, it still would be an old building with accompanying deficiencies. Building new was viewed as the more logical choice, Blackaller said.

Financial challenges

The city and school district entered into a lease agreement for usage of the proposed municipal pool in 1976, with construction completed in 1978. That agreement called for a split of operational costs being 75% to the school’s responsibility and 25% to the city.

This agreement was based on the fact the School District would have use of the facility for nine months out of the year and the city would use it for three, City Administrator Curt Snyder said.

But over the years as first the School District and then the city experienced financial difficulties the operational costs’ split was altered. In the end the city decided not to continue with the agreement as discussion ensued over how much enjoyment the community benefited from the arrangement versus the School District.

New nonprofit

Now the nonprofit Rice Lake Aquatics and Recreational Center, Inc., is going to build and own the new two-pool aquatic center with community locker rooms on the north side of the building. Plans include the possibility of adding a tall waterslide in the community pool plus a zero-depth entrance and play area.

It’s intended to be a destination for the community for families to come and spend time with parents sitting on the deck while the kids play in the water, and will be available to the community for more hours than currently.

The School District will build a two-story addition on the west side between the existing elementary school and the new aquatic center with either four or six classrooms, plus locker rooms for students and a second-story bleacher area for sports spectators. The district has enough money to fund this project, Blackaller said.

Phase One starts with building the aquatic center. Once the new pools are available, the old pool will be renovated. The city will own the old building and agreed to invest $2 million to convert it to a community walking track and gym space and possibly community rooms, according to a February 2020 resolution. The lease agreement is legally set to be dissolved on June 30, 2022.

In the end, Blackaller said the old pool will be renovated by the city and will be sold to the nonprofit after 20 years.

“Really three entities are putting their money and assets together to get to their goal of a community recreation and aquatics building,” Blackaller said.

They are hoping to break ground spring or summer 2022 for the school and nonprofit’s project. It will likely will take better part of year to complete, so looking to open spring to fall 2023.


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ADRC to seek $2 million grant for a new commercial kitchen
  • Updated

The Executive Committee of the Barron County Board of Supervisors approved a request by Jennifer Jako, director of the Aging and Disabilty Resource Center, to apply for a $2 million grant to build a new kitchen for its growing home-delivered meals program.

Jako said the Wisconsin Department of Administration, through funding from the American Rescue Plan Act, announced Sept. 30 that grant monies are available with applications due Nov. 4.

The grant intent is for local and tribal governments for purposes of making significant investments with long-term benefits to help neighborhoods recover from negative effects of the pandemic.

Capital investments, such as construction of buildings, are eligible. A match from the county is not required, and applications can be withdrawn at any time.

The director said home-delivered meals were a critical service during the pandemic — and still are.

She said 380-400 meals are now being made daily at Ventures, Inc. of Cameron, a commercial kitchen it has used for the past eight years, with both the space needed and staffing required at capacity.

The director said with the number of residents age 60 and over ever increasing — from 20% of the county’s population in 2015 to a projected 30% by 2040 — a larger facility is needed to meet the demand.

Jako said she has toured the kitchens at UW-EC-Barron County, the former Red Cedar School on Ann Street in Rice Lake and the county jail, but the college kitchen is not larger than what they are already using, the Ann Street school’s kitchen is small and would cost more to remodel than build new, and there would be too many logical issues to use the jail kitchen, which is already serving three meals a day.

The director said the only other options are to do nothing, which would create a waiting list to get on the meal program; or contracting out, which has pros and cons.

She showed a graph of the steady rise in home-delivered meals, which have increased from 46,529 in 2015 to 67,443 meals in 2020. She expects another jump by the end of 2021 as they were already at 54,000 as of Aug. 1.

“It could be 80,000 this year, and we are feeling the capacity crunch in the current kitchen,” Jako said.

If the grant is received and a larger kitchen built, likely behind the Justice Center, the director said it could also be used by county Public Health during future pandemics as a meeting room or drive-thru site, by Emergency Management as a headquarters during a possible disaster or garage for fleet and a back-up for the Sheriff’s Department kitchen.

Executive Committee chair Louie Okey asked if there was any downside to applying for the grant. Jako replied no, and that the meal program is by far the largest and most popular service of the Aging program. In a recent survey, 800 respondents ranked its most-used service as Meals On Wheels.

Jako said, “We see this grant as an opportunity for us to at least do the ask and try to get something moving.”


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5 more COVID-19 related deaths reported in Barron County
  • Updated

Barron County Public Health is reporting five more COVID-19 related deaths, according to a news release. Three individuals were in their 80s, one was in their 70s, and one was in their 50s. Four of the five deaths were in people who were not vaccinated. The deaths occurred in August and September.

“Our hearts go out to all those touched by these losses,” Health Officer Laura Sauve said. “We continue to take this virus seriously. We ask that the community does so too.”

Studies from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that vaccinated people were nearly five times less likely to get infected and 10 times less likely to get so sick they ended up in the hospital. Unvaccinated people are 11 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than those who are fully vaccinated, showing that vaccines continue to provide powerful protection, even against the Delta variant.

In its Monday weekly report, Public Health numbers indicate a downward trend from the week ending Sept. 27, when new cases numbered 343.

On Oct. 4, 262 new cases were recorded and on Monday 258 were tallied. Of the new cases 23% were fully vaccinated.

With 22,618 Barron County residents having received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, 50% of the population is now vaccinated.

Public Health continues to urge everyone who is not vaccinated to get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible. They also encourage getting a booster dose for people who fit into a recommended group for boosters. In addition to getting vaccinated, it is also important to take other steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Wear a mask when indoors, stay home when feeling sick, and avoid large indoor gatherings.

To find a vaccine clinic, visit vaccinefinder.org. The state Department of Health website has a list of people who are eligible. For more information or questions about COVID-19, dial 2-1-1.

A free drive-though Pfizer COVID-19 booster dose is available from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 13, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Barron Electric, 1434 Highway 25, Barron.

People should bring their CDC vaccine card or bring a printed vaccination record found at dhs.wisconsin.gov/covid-19/vaccine-record.htm. No registration is needed.

To fill out a consent form before arrival visit tinyurl.com/mtnr87pc.


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