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Referendum authorized for aquatic facilities

By Kevin Boneske
Staff Writer

DE PERE – Voters will have the opportunity in November to decide whether to exceed the levy limit to fund aquatic facilities on both sides of the Fox River.

The De Pere Common Council voted unanimously Tuesday, Aug. 21, to hold a binding referendum on whether to increase the annual levy by $900,000, starting in 2019 and on an ongoing basis, “for improving and transforming the pools located at VFW Park and at Legion Park into aquatic facilities and for operating those aquatic facilities.”

The council reversed previous actions it made over the past two years that called for replacing the two existing outdoor pools with one aquatic center at VFW Park, with an estimated cost in the neighborhood of $9 million.

Council members were convinced to reconsider plans to close Legion Pool in response to efforts by the group known as Save Legion Pool.

The council chambers had been filled Thursday, Aug. 16, when supporters of keeping the Legion Pool open on the city’s east side urged the Board of Park Commissioners not to close down the facility.

Board members listened for about an hour and a half while several speakers outlined why they favor outdoor swimming facilities in De Pere on each side of the Fox River.

Those concerns included the impact closing the Legion Pool would have on the community, such as with the safety and expense for children living on the east side of De Pere having to travel to the west side and how the area near Legion Park would be affected with property values, etc.

Speakers representing Save Legion Pool also made reference to survey data in which the majority of respondents wanted a swimming facility on both sides of the river.

Mayor Michael Walsh said he thought it was “great that people have gotten so involved on this issue.”

Dan Van Straten

“Whenever the city makes a change or has an issue, we ask our staff to look outside the box and to come up with other options along with the status quo,” Walsh said. “That was the case here, with the main issue being the safety and entertainment of our kids, and being able to continue the swimming lessons. Different ideas were entertained on how to do that.”

Walsh said the aquatic center had been “one of the options that made a lot of sense.”

“A couple of the reasons why the aquatic center was chosen was financial – trying not to lose about $110,000 per year and maybe generate some income,” he said. “Another one was significant dwindling of attendance at both pools over the years for various reasons that have been brought up. And three, the main one was to offer amenities that our families might enjoy to entice them to come to the pool more often.”

Walsh said it is “highly unusual” in De Pere to rescind a previous council action.

“We pride ourselves in making decisions and not going back later to change them, like what can happen in other cities,” he said. “It really doesn’t give the city a lot of credibility if it happens a lot.”

De Pere Alderman Larry Lueck speaks Thursday, Aug. 16, in favor of having the Board of Park Commissioners recommend to the city council that it reconsider its decision to close the Legion Park pool and build an aquatic center at VFW Park. Kevin Boneske Photo

Though Walsh said he isn’t “fond of referendums, especially of binding referendums,” because officials are elected to make the tough decisions, he noted he favored one in this case to be drafted by alderpersons Larry Lueck and James Boyd.

Dan Van Straten of Save Legion Pool said he is excited about the binding referendum being placed on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.

“It’s exciting to see that the council listened (and) took action based on what their constituents were saying,” Van Straten said.

The resolution council members backed to authorize holding the referendum doesn’t specify the type of aquatic facilities to be funded upon voter approval.

Van Straten said community leaders could provide assistance as to the type of facilities to have at the two parks.

“I’m hoping we’re going to see two centers that will accommodate the families,” he said. “It could be one large aquatic center and a smaller pool here on the east side. We just don’t know yet, but having two pools that families can use, I think that’s really the end goal, and I think we’ll have that.”

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