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.
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.
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.