The St. Peter Outdoor Pool might open this summer, but don’t expect it to be business as usual.
At the June 15 St. Peter City Council meeting, Recreation and Leisure Services Director Joey Schugel explained what a public pool opening during an ongoing pandemic might look like. It would come with significant capacity limits, limited concessions, social distancing and a reduction of programs. Still, though, it would provide its usual service as an outlet for individuals and families on smoldering summer days.
The council was mixed in its reaction to the possibility of opening at the work session June 15. It will need to decide one way or another at its June 22 regular meeting.
Schugel noted that the city has gotten recommendations from the Minnesota Department of Health on how to open safely, without greatly increasing the spread of coronavirus, and he believes the city has the ability to make it happen. The Recreation and Leisure Services Department has concocted a set of rules to encourage distance between users and to discourage physical interaction.
“I think it’s a great option for the community in a summer when there is not a lot of options out there. It’s still bringing that much needed recreation and leisure time to the public,” Schugel said. “I think families can make the decision; if they want to come out and use the pool, they will; if they don’t, they won’t, but at least they’ll have that option.”
If approved at the June 22 meeting, the recreation team would look to quickly name an opening date. The opening would most likely need to wait until July.
The first and most significant rule change for 2020, if the pool were to open, would be a restricted capacity. The goal is to have around 33% of the regular capacity at the pool grounds, although the specific numbers are actually even lower than that.
The pool can be divided into two areas: the lap pool/diving area and the wading pool.
The wading pool, a good place for families with young children, normally has a capacity of 65 total individuals, but that includes the deck and waiting areas. Since the actual pool area would not normally fit 65 individuals, the Recreation and Leisure Services team worked backward, Schugel said, and came up with a 10-person limit. That could increase slightly, if family members are standing next to each other. There would be one lifeguard and one staff members screening at the gate and monitoring distancing.
The lap pool and diving area, meanwhile, has a normal capacity of 447 total individuals. The recreation team is recommending a maximum of 125 individuals for 2020. That includes a maximum of 30 on the pool deck with 6 feet social distancing, except for members of the same household. There would be six lifeguards, including one head guard, along with two staff members enforcing protocols on the deck.
“We’re going to work really hard to make sure guidelines are enforceable and make sure staff is comfortable in what it’s being asked to do,” Schugel said. “We’re also going to rely on the community to help us on that. Some of the proposed restrictions are that kids 12 and under need to be with an adult. We’re going to ask adults to help with that, to police themselves, and keep the pool open for the community.”
The new rules don’t stop there.
Under the current proposal, reservations would be required. While limited swimming lessons would still be available, the usual adult programming would likely be axed.
Masks/face coverings would be recommended, but not required, on the pool deck. Concessions would be limited to pre-packaged items, such as ice cream bars and bags of chips. Locker rooms would have a capacity of 10 patrons for women and seven for men. All patrons would be screened for potential illness at the gate, and all patrons would be required to shower before entering the pool deck. Patrons would also be asked to come dressed in their swim suits and would not be allowed into locker rooms upon leaving (so bring a towel).
The pool also would not provide any deck chairs and it would not loan out life jackets, goggles or equipment of any kind. The landline phone would be for staff use only. There would be no floaties, no designated family swim. Basketball and Wibit inflatable pool items would not be in use this summer.
Hand sanitizing stations and social distance signage would encourage residents to take action in preventing the spread of germs. Staff would regularly disinfect, including a one-hour period, between open swim and swim lessons, used for disinfecting the facility top to bottom.
While there are many ways to reduce the risk of spreading the virus, the easiest option for the city certainly would be to simply keep the pool closed. The facility generally operates at a small loss, anyway, and any potential liability for spreading the virus would be wiped out, if the pool remained closed.
But Schugel, his staff and at least some of the councilors agreed that it’s an important enough community amenity to find a way to get open.
“Our pool is a huge part of what summer is in St. Peter,” Schugel said. “It’s been around for a long time, and we want it to be around for a long time to come. We want people to have an enjoyable and affordable experience to keep cool during the hot summer days.”
The cost of opening, Schugel said, wouldn’t be much different to a normal summer.
“We’re kind of looking at it like a standard budgeting year for the pool,” he said. “We know there would be a slight increase in expenses with some of the safety measures, but there will also be cost savings with not being open during June. The pool is not a moneymaker, so we operate at a loss. It’s about providing an opportunity for St. Peter residents.”
Whether people might have to be turned away, due to the facility reaching its lowered capacity, Schugel said it was certainly possible, but he doesn’t anticipate significant issues.
“So much depends on weather and things like that,” he explained. “But I think when we looked at the capacity requirements, I think we looked at limits that are very manageable, but also would allow for the public to use the pool. I don’t see a lot of people turned away, and we’re going to work on educating the public on how things are different this summer.”
St. Peter soon-to-be third grader Hailey Detlefsen just wanted to do something good. She accomplished her goal and then some.
In late May, she visited the St. Peter Area Food Shelf to donate $1,067 that she had collected by selling wristbands, with a little bit of help from parents Dave and Julie. Hailey was beaming as she talked about the project.
“I did a fundraiser for the Food Shelf to give them money, because March was Food Shelf month, so they can double their donations,” Hailey said. “I was supposed to start it after we got back from vacation in Florida, but when we got back, everything closed and we couldn’t go to school, so I talked to my friends on my (school messenger) app, and a lot of them bought some, and then we did this thing at my school and sold them there. And my mom put a poster on Facebook, and that’s how we sold more.”
At $3 a piece, Hailey and her parents sold hundreds of the rubber wristbands, each labeled with “Saint Peter Saints.” The wristbands were purchased by Dave and Julie, who wanted to ensure that every single dollar for Hailey’s sales could go toward her donation.
“She came up with the idea in early March or February,” Dave said. “Julie and I were very proud of her. It fills my heart with joy to see her take this on.”
He continued, “The plan was to sell them at school and make posters there. So we ordered them, they got shipped, and we came back from vacation and we were never able to go back to school. So through the app on her iPad, she was able to connect with some kids. And then the school had a vehicle parade, and the principal said we could set up a table, and that’s where she made over $700. Just cars passing by.”
Hailey added, “And people were just giving extra donations with their money. Some people donated like $20 and only took like two bracelets.”
A big donation, like Hailey’s, can go a long way at the area food shelf, as it can get product at discounted rates to help feed individuals and families in the community who need some help. In fact, $1 can pay for three meals. Hailey had a sense of pride and joy for what she and her family accomplished.
“I feel excited, because we raised over 3,000 meals,” she said.
While the heart of an eventually global outcry for police reform and racial equity in late May and early June was over 50 miles away, and it may have seemed like Minneapolis was a completely different world at the time, the rippling impact of the movement was certainly felt in St. Peter.
Events remained peaceful in the community, but Indivisible of St. Peter and Greater Mankato estimated that some 500 residents showed up to a protest at Minnesota Square Park in St. Peter on May 28. While organizers expressed a desire for the demonstration to be productive, and not destructive, the message was clear: the group supported the Black Lives Matter movement and were calling for a change in police tactics, if not a change to the policing system entirely, after the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis officer.
“We wanted this protest to be a reflection of what we feel Minnesota is and can be,” said Indivisible’s Misti Nicole Harper. “Like everybody, we were horrified, grief-stricken when George Floyd was murdered. We couldn’t sit back and feel like this didn’t happen. Even though we’re in St. Peter and Mankato, we needed to make a public display to show that we are watching … We’re not going to sit by and be passive about this; we’re going to hold everyone accountable, starting with ourselves.”
While this message of accountability has been heard loud and clear by police departments across the country, and many have indicated a desire to listen and grow, some stronger messages have also been sent. Rallying cries, like “Defund the police” and “All cops are bad” (or another version of the same phrase with more forceful verbiage), have gained traction in recent weeks in ways they never have before. In fact, the Minneapolis City Council has announced a commitment to overhaul its Police Department in a move that, if followed through, would surely have external eyes beaming on Minnesota’s biggest city for years to come.
So while there is a physical distance between St. Peter and the heart of the movement and conflict, St. Peter Police Chief Matt Peters told the City Council June 15 that his department has absolutely felt the effects.
“Right now, my biggest challenge is to get St. Peter officers to focus on our community and what we do every day,” Peters told the council during an annual report he gives on the Police Department.
He indicated that many of the officers, especially younger ones, were wondering what lies ahead.
“They are very demoralized,” Peters said. “They could easily not come to work. It’s important for them to focus on this community and what this community needs from us. That’s the No. 1 topic, and that’s what we talk about. We try not to be demoralized. Officers talk about ‘I have 20 years of this job; how am I going to make it?’ That’s what they talk about it.”
He further noted that he believes he has “15 really good people, and we’re trying to get our heads back in the game and concentrate on what we need to do here.” He noted the department is continuing to emphasize training in defensive tactics, like safely handcuffing and arresting people when needed.
According to Peters, the department reported six uses of force in 2019, including three individuals tased and three arrested with force, which Peters said is about average for a year. He also went over the department’s use of force policy, which dictates when and how the city’s officers are able to use force.
Mayor Chuck Zieman noted that police in St. Peter need not be painted with the same broad brush as police in other cities, like Minneapolis, saying “We’re St. Peter; we’re not Minneapolis. Let’s try not to roll everything into one.” Peters agreed and said, “It’s hard when you’re 24 years old, and you’re trying to do the right thing. You can take things personally. But I think we’re going to be alright now.”
Councilor Keri Johnson noted, though, that just because the incident and resulting protests/riots occurred in Minneapolis, doesn’t mean St. Peter is isolated from the issue. She added, “This is something we need to be super aware of in our review and application and training. I think what would benefit the police is having conversations about it.”
She asked the police chief if he expects to engage in conversations with the community on the topic.
Peters indicated they won’t be happening now, but it’s in consideration for later: “That’s very likely, but people are basically talking past each other right now on a political level, so now is not the time. It can’t devolve into political sides. But that’s something we’re looking at and thinking about.”
Other councilors prodded for some more information on a number of topics.
Councilor Emily Bruflat asked about the department’s greatest strengths, and Peters referenced his team’s efforts to adhere to the constitution, including the rights of persons in custody established by written law and by court precedent. Bruflat then asked where Peters sees potential growth for the department going forward, and Peters talked about improving processes, like taking in evidence, and then noted his more immediate desire to improve morale.
Councilor Brad DeVos, meanwhile, asked whether utilizing a police officer as the school liaison is the best choice or if the school district and Police Department should consider a different type of worker, possibly someone with a human services background. Peters said it was the school district who requested the officers, and he affirmed his belief that an officer can be a positive force in the life of a troubled or isolated kid.
DeVos then asked about how the department manages the way officers conduct themselves when off duty. Peters said there is training for officers when off duty, and City Administrator Todd Prafke noted that the city has a policy for all of its employees, requiring conduct that befits their position, even when off duty. However, they both noted that limiting first amendment free speech, such as political views, on social media and other outlets, is tricky, “so it’s a balance,” Peters said.