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Three Ottawa residents show support for potential Riordan Pool rehab project

Commissioners listen; weigh options as pool needs costly repairs

I really think we need to keep this pool going as long as we possibly can.

—  Ottawa resident Deb Purcell

Children dating back to 1966 have fond memories of summer days at the Riordan Pool in Ottawa but as it surpasses its 55th year, it is in need of rehabilitation.

More than a dozen residents attended Thursday’s meeting with three speaking in favor of at least rehabbing, if not rebuilding the Riordan Pool over the next few years. Mayor Dan Aussem had issued a request last week for residents to weigh in on the future of the pool.

“To this day, we still call it the new pool,” said Ottawa resident Deb Purcell. “I was there the day it opened with my father and my mother who dropped us off. I have two boys that worked every summer there as lifeguards, and I really think we need to keep this pool going as long as we possibly can.”

While the pool carries fond memories for many Ottawa residents, which includes members of the Ottawa City Council, Commissioner James Less said the city loses about $100,000 running the pool every summer even with what it charges for use, but the other commissioners and Recreation Board members agreed the object of a public pool isn’t to make money.

Commissioner Tom Ganiere agreed with them, saying the pool should be thought of as a recreational amenity similar to Washington Square or Lincoln-Douglas Park.

“Our parks cost us a lot of money and people use them for free,” Ganiere said. “At least we’re getting something back on the pool when somebody comes to use it for the cost of a daily pass.”

A rehab project, which Playgrounds & Recreation Board President John Levy called a bandage, would cost about $550,000 and require an additional $1.2 million in work in the years following that. That would allow the pool to stay open for about the next 20 years.

“We could go ahead and put $500,000 in and limp into another year but even then, we won’t be able to open until July,” Less said. “August could end up being where we’d have shut it down for the year to proceed with more repairs.”

Maribeth Manigold, who also serves on the Recreation Board, believes a rehabilitation is unrealistic. As the pool sits right now, she thinks the city will be lucky to get another six weeks out of it if it were to open again in the summer.

A completely new pool would cost in the ballpark of $4.1 million, according to an estimate the city received from Kmetz Construction.

The cost is where detractors issues lie.

“At that time (in 1966), people that had a swimming pool or an in-ground pool were wealthy and they could afford something that the rest of the community didn’t have an option for,” Less said. “More of the community has its own pool nowadays. Around 20% have pools in their backyards.”

Ottawa Resident John Stone urged the City Council in a letter to look at a full-service splash pad in place of a swimming pool since they’re easier to maintain, have a lower operating cost and don’t need staff to look after, but he also understands the new YMCA’s facilities will be consumed by high school swim meets and OSF HealthCare.

Commissioner Marla Pearson said she’s looked into the splash pads as an option but she’s learned with time spent in Peru that while their splash pad is a success, the city is again looking to build a pool after getting rid of its public pool within the last few years.

Commissioner Wayne Eichelkraut said dwindling attendance at the pool could be explained by a need for amenities, and one of the citizens attending pointed out Riordan Pool as it is right now is not accessible. Plans for a rehabbed or new pool would involve making the pool an accessible place for everyone, which falls in line with the approach Ottawa has taken with its city parks in recent years.

No formal action was taken during the council meeting Thursday, but the commissioners assured those who spoke their opinions will be taken into consideration while the options are explored.