The Northfield City Council has delaying a decision about opening the Memorial Pool this summer, awaiting guidance from the governor’s office.

At Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, Facilities Manager Jayson Dwelle recommended closing the pool for the summer to make repairs and catch up on deferred maintenance to the pool and pavilion, a move that would save the city approximately $22,000.

Under Gov. Tim Walz’s current executive order, swimming pools are prohibited from opening until at least June 1.

However, Dwelle presented several options councilors could take if they opened the pool. One was to, if possible, open the pool in early June, close to the traditional opening data, while using alternative scheduling and limited admittance, enacting best sanitizing practices and allowing no concession sales.

Another option was to delay the pool’s opening until July, allowing for additional time for guidance. Under this scenario, similar restrictions would be in place.

Councilor Clarice Grenier Grabau said although she wants to open the pool, she wondered how people could socially distance themselves on the lawn of the pool site.

Dwelle replied that employees in charge of sanitization would help to issue social distancing reminders, but acknowledged doing so would be difficult. He raised the possibility of requiring user groups to produce plans to comply with Walz’s recommendations and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to help keep people safe.

In expressing support for closing the pool for the summer, Councilor Erica Zweifel said the council is aware that COVID-19 will be around for a while and that people transmit the virus by projecting their voices. She said the health and fiscal risks were too high to open the pool, calling it an “amenity” during a time when the city could face difficult decisions relating to services and staff.

Dwelle said if Walz allows swimming pools to open, the city must consider mitigation requirements. Those could include days broken into two-hour sessions with a limited number of patrons allowed. The facility would need to be sanitized between sessions, and patrons might be required to bring their own chairs or blankets. Signs encouraging social distancing could be installed.

Evidence indicates pools with proper chlorine levels kill COVID-19 in the water.

Season pass sales have already been postponed. Even if the pool opens this summer, the city will still likely lose revenue because of expected restrictions posed by the virus.

Despite that, Dwelle said there are also benefits to opening the pool, including that it provides the community with a recreation opportunity, gives a sense of normalcy and serves as a safe recreation outlet.

In response to a question on whether the city would face liability if someone contracted COVID-19 from the pool, Dwelle said staff needs to place signage stressing that patrons assume some risk.

Other area pools are grappling with the same decision. Pine Springs Pool in Blooming Prairie will remain closed this summer, undergoing upgrades and maintenance in lieu of being open. An official decision on the Medford Pool and River Springs Water Park has yet to be made, but both city pools are ready in terms of staff – for now.

Reach Associate Editor Sam Wilmes at 507-645-1115. © Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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