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Stevens FORWARD! -- Diving into the pool issue again

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By Nancy Woodke

Sun Tribune

An outdoor pool has been a recurring issue in Stevens County, even before the earthen pool at Pomme de Terre Park in Morris closed in 2003 after a second drowning there.

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The issue is being brought to the forefront again, this time by the Stevens FORWARD! initiative.

Turning the pool issue into a reality is one of Stevens FORWARD!'s 14 Destiny Drivers.

The goal of the Destiny Driver is to "construct an outdoor aquatics center that will serve Stevens County and the surrounding region" by 2015.

Stevens FORWARD! coordinator Roger McCannon admits that achieving this particular Destiny Driver could be a "long shot," but Stevens FORWARD! heard from many people who would love to see an outdoor pool in the community.

"Nearly 600 people responded to our survey and there were many comments about wanting an outdoor pool," said McCannon. "We aren't trying to revive a dead issue. We think there is enough interest to take it seriously."

In 2002, a Pool Task Forced was formed to study if there was a need for an outdoor aquatic park in Morris.

The Prairie Renaissance Project found that 68 percent of those surveyed stated they strongly supported an outdoor swimming pool for the city.

The Morris Pool Committee was formed to place the question on the city referendum ballot in August 2005.

The results of that vote did not reflect the wishes of the survey participants.

Morris residents rejected a plan to sell bonds up to $2.2 million to build a water park.

The pool vote was 876 against the water park and 543 for the proposal.

Proponents pushed the water park for its potential social and economic benefits, possibly helping make the area a more attractive place to live, shop and relocate business.

But opponents to the plan were critical of the city heaping more tax debt on residents already paying for a new $27 million elementary school and the prospect of Stevens County building a new jail.

At that time, the committee's plan was to build an aquatics center on the 17-acre site of the former Morris Area Elementary School.

Since then, new plans are underway for that parcel of land in the Morris city limits.

At this point, the pool issue is in its conceptual stages.

A site for the water park and specific plans still need to be addressed by the Destiny Driver's "Champions."

An example of an aquatics center in a similar community is the Benson Family Aquatic Center.

The center includes a multi-use pool, splash pool, water slide, and sand lot, as well as changing rooms and picnic area.

The water park was constructed at a cost of $1.75 million and opened in 2002.

Jill Gagner, who was a member of the Morris Pool Committee in 2005, said recently that the group's worked stalled after the vote took the wind out of their sails.

Gagner suggested that rather than attempting to fund the pool with tax dollars, a more successful plan might be to collect donations for the water park.

Gagner mentioned the Lee Community Center, which was constructed after a successful drive to build a hockey arena in Morris.

With the current economic climate, that might prove to be a complicated task, but at least the burden would not fall upon taxpayers, she said.

Keith Davison, who was part of a private group that built a pool for public use in Wheaton, believes that supporters should start with a basic pool.

"Plan for what you can get now, and leave space to add on later," Davison said.

The pool in Wheaton is still in working order, but is now operated by the city because citizens urged their council to keep the pool open.

"It's a shame we don't have an outdoor pool for the kids," said Davison. "I do think we need outdoor swimming facilities."

Davison realizes that the Regional Fitness Center on the University of Minnesota, Morris campus provides a place for the community to swim. However, in his opinion, it's just not the same as an outdoor pool in the summer.

After the failed vote in 2005, then Morris Mayor Carol Wilcox made a prediction regarding the ongoing efforts to build a pool.

"It's not a dead issue," Wilcox said. "It will come back. And sooner than later."

The issue is back. The Stevens FORWARD! stewards have brought the issue to life and the possibility of building a pool in the community will be explored and debated further.

The stewards will work to inspire community action to make it happen.

That's where you can help.

Are you a 'Champion'?

Stevens FORWARD! stewards are seeking "Champions" -- people who want to get involved in the initiative and spearhead a Destiny Driver. For more information, visit the Stevens FORWARD! Web site at www.stevensforward.org, or contact Coordinator Roger McCannon via email at: mail@stevensforward.org, or by phone at (320) 287-0882.

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