Clearing the water: De Pere pools referendum explained
By Lee Reinsch
DE PERE — If either of the public pool facilities in De Pere were to close down, it would leave a gap in the community, says De Pere mother of four, Betsy Hornseth.
“For so many of the kids, that’s their safe place, their place to go and get some fresh air, get off electronics and have some structure, adult supervision, and interaction with other kids from school,” Hornseth said. “It’s a really important place for that demographic, and it would be such a shame to see it go, on either side of the river.”
Three or four times a week, Hornseth and her kids use the Legion Park pool.
Same with another mom of four, Katie Carviou.
“If we’re not at our cottage, we’re in the pool, and even if we do go to the cottage, the kids start asking when we’re going to the pool as soon as we pull into the driveway,” she said.
Carviou and Hornseth are co-organizers of Save De Pere Pools.
But more than a summer amusement, though, a public pool is a safety tool, according to Hornseth.
“Living around so much water, it’s really important for kids to be safe near the water,” Hornseth said. “There’s just too much opportunity for drowning, and it’s really important for kids to know how to swim and be safe.”
Save De Pere Pools supports the Nov. 6 De Pere referendum to exceed the levy by up to $900,000 a year on an ongoing basis to improve and transform the two city pools into aquatic facilities.
Both sites would be updated to include Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant pools and locker rooms and would include concession stands, said Alderman Larry Lueck.
Like the existing facilities, they would be outdoors.
At one point, the city was proposing to shut down Legion Pool in favor of building one fancy aquatics center with lots of bells and whistles.
The city rescinded that, shortly before major damage had occurred with the VFW pool, resulting in cracking and warping of the pool’s concrete sides, with repairs estimated at around $800,000.
Around that time, rumors started floating around town that the city had money to pay for that initially proposed aquatics center.
“There seems to be a misunderstanding in the community that the aquatic center we were going to build at VFW is already paid for, or we had the money for it, and I don’t know where that ever came from, because nobody I know has ever told anyone we had the money for it,” Lueck said.
He said, to his way of thinking, that proposal would have headed to referendum, although it never got to that point, and the idea for two aquatics facilities gained momentum.
Although the referendum wording indicates that a “yes” vote would give the city permission to exceed the levy by $900,000 per year on an ongoing basis, meaning for an unknown number of years, it’s not guaranteed that the city would actually need $900,000 a year, Lueck, an attorney, said.
“If in a year the city doesn’t require the whole $900,000 to operate the facility, then the city doesn’t have to take $900,000 out,” Lueck said. “It’s not a mandatory must. It’s up to $900,000 that the city can use toward the aquatic facilities.”
He used the example of a 2007 streets referendum in De Pere whereby the city was authorized to take up to $941,000 to use for street improvements but never ended up requiring that much.
“The initial cost for (the aquatics facilities) is going to be the biggest part,” he said. “Then it’s a matter of maintaining it just like any other normal building… One of the advantages is, if this passes, is we can update some of the piping that’s going into those pools. Some of it is 60-year-old pipes, so it’s important to do that stuff because it’s broken in the past and probably will in the future. We haven’t updated it in 30 years, so there’s probably a lot of efficiencies we can gain.”
Currently the city subsidizes the pools by $140,000 to $200,000 per year.
“The hope is we can drop that down significantly just by becoming more energy-efficient and more efficient at layout and design,” Lueck said. “One of the big ones is heating the water. There are new ways you can heat the water, new methods. The real hope is that by the time this is ready to go, we’ve got the operational costs down significantly and don’t need to take as much every year from the referendum approval.”