The city of St. Peter Outdoor Pool will open this summer at limited capacity.
After being introduced to an opening plan at the June 15 council meeting by the Recreation and Leisure Services Director, the council officially voted 5-2 June 22 against a resolution to close the pool. Councilors Brad DeVos and Emily Bruflat voted for closing. The vote means that city staff has the authority to go forward with opening this season.
Recreation and Leisure Services Director Joey Schugel said ideally staff will be able to open in nine to 14 days, after staff can be properly trained, so a post-Fourth of July opening is likely.
It wasn’t unanimous, but the council ultimately decided that staff had a plan to control capacity at the pool, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and the benefits of a public pool to kids and families in the community were important enough to warrant potential risk. Councilor Keri Johnson, who expressed some concerns about the opening, ultimately decided that the plan from staff was solid.
“I feel better about the pool opening after hearing (Schugel’s) presentation,” Johnson said. “I know that, after talking with (staff), they take this pandemic very seriously, take the responsibility very seriously. I think one of the biggest impacts in mitigating risk will be the reservation system.”
She added, “I’ve heard a lot from both sides, and overwhelmingly it seemed to be ‘Open it’ and they brought up swim lessons and equity and a lot of valid arguments.”
Councilor Shanon Nowell agreed: “I think a lot of planning has gone into this. I feel quite persuaded that staff has a plan. My biggest concern was lack of compliance, and I’ve been assured that pool staff has a lot of experience and knows how to discipline, for lack of a better word, people who are not compliant.”
Councilors DeVos and Bruflat felt that opening the pool for a few months, simply wasn’t worth the risk, as COVID-19 cases are again surging in some states that reopened relatively quickly.
“I’ve heard from quite a few number of residents regarding the pool, and I will say it’s very spit on whether or not to open the pool,” Bruflat said. “I am not in favor of opening right now; I think it’s prudent to wait. I think we need a few weeks of data from other municipalities. Maybe we can reexamine this in a few weeks, once there is more data out there.”
DeVos said, “I’ll just say that for the month and a half, or two months, of service, this is a big investment for what we’re actually getting from the pool opening. I think it would be best to defer until next year. I think, for this year, what we’re facing, it’s not our best allocation of resources.”
The two, though, were outvoted, and staff will proceed with its opening plan, although Schugel said the situation will continue to be monitored, and staff is prepared to make changes quickly if needed.
The first and most significant rule change for 2020, when the pool opens, is 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 member 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 will 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 plan, reservations will be required. While limited swimming lessons will still be available, the usual adult programming will likely be axed.
Masks/face coverings will be recommended, but not required, on the pool deck. Concessions will be limited to pre-packaged items, such as ice cream bars and bags of chips. Locker rooms will have a capacity of 10 patrons for women and seven for men. All patrons will be screened for potential illness at the gate, and all patrons will be required to shower before entering the pool deck. Patrons will also be asked to come dressed in their swim suits and will not be allowed into locker rooms upon leaving (so bring a towel).
The pool also will not provide any deck chairs and it will not loan out life jackets, goggles or equipment of any kind. The landline phone will be for staff use only. There will be no floaties, no designated family swim. Basketball and Wibit inflatable pool items will not be in use this summer.
Hand sanitizing stations and social distance signage will encourage residents to take action in preventing the spread of germs. Staff will 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 the majority 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.”