Cloquet looks to breathe new life into Pinehurst pond

As the swimming pond in Cloquet's Pinehurst Park slowly leaked up to 30,000 gallons of water a day, so too did the once-popular recreational spot leak money.

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As the swimming pond in Cloquet's Pinehurst Park slowly leaked up to 30,000 gallons of water a day, so too did the once-popular recreational spot leak money.

At its peak, about 700 people flocked to the pond daily to sunbathe and swim in summer, listen to the Cloquet band perform, or ice skate in the winter. But time and neglect took their toll on the pond. By the time it closed in 2005 after springing a leak, daily attendance had dwindled to fewer than 100.

Now the Cloquet City Council is trying to decide how to replace the swimming hole: rebuild the sand-bottom pond for about $1.1 million, or install a new concrete pool and upgrade changing rooms for twice that price?

"We live in northern Minnesota, and people sometimes don't think we need [public] swimming pools," said Cloquet Mayor Bruce Ahlgren. But some wonder why a community should spend money on an outdoor pool that's usable for only a few months out of the year.

"Young kids and parents have a hard time getting to the lake," Ahlgren said. "And the pool brings in people from outside the community."


While the city's Parks Commission has expressed support for a concrete pool, a small group of residents has been lobbying to restore the sand-bottom pond. They argue that the pond is less expensive, usable for skating as well as swimming and that families have enjoyed the sandy beach surroundings for decades. When the pond opened in the mid-1970s, people paid 50 cents for a day of recreation. When it closed, the price was $2.25 per day.

"What we have in Cloquet is a real jewel," said Jerry Olson, a member of the Pinehurst Citizens Work Group. The group has asked a civil engineer to speak to the City Council tonight on "the pluses and minuses" of concrete pools and sand-bottom ponds.

Whether it's a concrete pool, sand-bottom pond, outdoor water park or indoor year-round pool, the facilities cost a lot to build and maintain. Sometimes, they are as much a financial burden as an asset.

"As far as I know, traditional pools operate at a loss," said Chuck Carbert, parks and recreation manager for the city of Grand Marais.

The Grand Marais public pool opened in 1977 and remains popular with residents, visitors, campers and students. The pool supports about 30,000 single visits each year, and takes in about $50,000 per year.

But the pool costs about $312,000 per year to operate, Carbert said, draining about $260,000 from the city's budget. And that doesn't take into account major maintenance costs.

"Our building is in pretty tough shape," Carbert said. The walls and insulation are waterlogged after decades of keeping the pool and whirlpool steamy.

Grand Marais city officials are debating whether to rehab the current pool house, tear it down and rebuild a newer swimming center with more amenities near the city's community center, or scrap the whole idea.


"It boils down to funding," Carbert said. "Pools cost money, and if you try to keep prices low so people can use it -- we could cover our costs if we charged people $15 or $20 to use the pool -- no one would come."

Burbach Aquatics, a Wisconsin-based company that builds municipal aquatic centers, has been in contact with Grand Marais officials as they try to reach a decision. A basic municipal pool can cost $1.5 million to build, while a high-end aquatic center complete with water slides can reach $10 million, said Roger Schamberger, the company's marketing director. Most projects are paid for through public referendums or capital campaigns.

Building an outdoor pool that will stand up to an assault from the elements is an expensive prospect, Schamberger said.

"Mother Nature doesn't want that pool in the ground," he said, so the company supports pools with massive pilings and installs drainage systems to keep water from freezing beneath the pools.

Even newer, indoor pools are expensive to operate. The Lake County school district has been forced to close its new indoor pool for half the year to save on operating costs, and Bayfield recently came close to losing its municipal pool and fitness center.

The Bayfield Area Recreation Center was built by a private benefactor and donated to the local school district in 1986. The district operated it at about a $150,000 loss each year, a loss that local taxpayers made up with a separate fund. A nonprofit group took over the center last year, and, thanks to a lot of community support and dedicated workers, "to all of our surprise, we broke even for the year," said Scott Armstrong, executive director of Recreation and Fitness Resources.

Future challenges will include maintaining that community support, and even increasing it to accommodate improvements to the building, Armstrong said.

Ahlgren said he sees people nearly every day who ask him when the Pinehurst pool or pond will open again.


"To start construction right away in the spring, that would be my hope," Ahlgren said. That means the council must decide on a course of action within the next few months, he said.

"We are going to replace the pool, without a doubt," Ahlgren said.

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