By Lea Kopke
DE PERE – By next summer, the new VFW Aquatic Center – complete with six lap lanes, diving boards, a slide and a toddler pool – will again be open to swimmers in De Pere.
De Pere Parks, Recreation and Forestry Director Marty Kosobucki led the project’s groundbreaking ceremony at the construction site July 23.
Randy Soquet, chairman of the De Pere Board of Park Commissioners, thanked community members and the park board for their help throughout the development process of the facility.
The process, Soquet said, included extensive talks with consultants and discussions with the community.
“This groundbreaking is a long time coming,” Soquet said. “We began the process of what’s next for our aquatic facilities over eight years ago. And that’s quite a deal. When you talk about pools from 1957, wow.”
John McDonald, De Pere recreation supervisor, said he has never seen a project come together quite like this one.
“In my time, I’ve been doing this for over 20 years,” McDonald said. “I’ve built other pools in the process and De Pere is unique in the adaptability that we have gone through, with, obviously, the original pool and then a referendum. So piecing all of that together… allowed the community to come together to get to this point. There’s no word for it really.”
McDonald said due to this process, the aquatic center will be an especially good fit for the community.
“Nowadays pools are about, ‘What’s new? What’s bigger? What’s better?’” McDonald said. “And De Pere hit it on the spot where they still get that new wow factor, but they still keep it a community feel.”
Mayor James Boyd said he was excited for this project, especially amid the trials of the last few months.
“I’m very grateful for this day,” he said. “Groundbreakings are wonderful things for cities, and this is something that we should all be very proud of and we will be very proud of.”
Soquet also said he was excited for what the project would mean for the community.
“I see it as a great expansion of a recreational opportunity,” he said. “This is a great opportunity for the community to come together, recreate together and to have something that very few communities our size have.”
Boyd thanked George Brown, former chairman of the De Pere Board of Park Commissioners, and Kosobucki for their work on and dedication to the project.
Boyd also thanked Mike Walsh, the former mayor of De Pere, who was unable to attend the groundbreaking.
“Mike Walsh was in a unique position,” Boyd said. “His father was on the park board and involved with the city when VFW was built in the late 1950s (along with) Legion Park. I’m speaking on behalf of Mike right now, but he would have been very proud if he was here to see the finish of this product moving forward.”