May 17—MANKATO — With temperatures finally warming and Mankato's municipal swimming pool set to open in less than three weeks, the City Council is considering some last-minute changes.
Council President Mike Laven favors free admission for all to the Tourtellotte Pool, while other council members are interested in expanding evening hours.
"I'd rather hear that the pool is at capacity, we can't get more in, versus what we've heard the last several years that there's not enough hours, it costs too much to go," Laven said last month, asking that the free-admission idea be scheduled for an upcoming work session.
But with just one more meeting before the pool is set to open on June 7, City Manager Susan Arntz is planning to bring Laven's idea and other scenarios for expanded hours to the council for a decision next Monday.
"If they want to do something, they want to do it sooner rather than later," Arntz said.
Laven's idea to drop the $2.50 entry fee would cost an estimated $16,000 in revenue. That's about half of the revenue the heavily subsidized pool brings in each year, the other half coming from fees paid by lap swimmers and pool rental by competitive youth swim teams.
"I think the taxpayers in this community can absorb that and we could provide, really, a zero-barrier to our pool that all of our community should have access to," Laven said, noting that there's no entrance fee to other city parks.
Council member Jenn Melby-Kelley appears ready to provide a second vote in favor of Laven's proposal.
"I love the idea of people being able to swim for free," Melby-Kelley said, reminiscing about her childhood summers. "I would have been there all the time if I could have done that."
Others on the seven-member council said they were ready to discuss the idea, although some sounded more interested in having swimmers invested in the pool to some extent.
"When you give something away for free, it sort of has no value anymore," Council member Karen Foreman said, suggesting two free days a week to gauge interest rather than completely eliminating admission charges.
Mayor Najwa Massad agreed, favoring a fee reduction to $1 or $1.25: "Instead of free, have it reduced so they still have some skin in the game."
And others said they hear many more complaints about the lack of evening hours — the pool is typically only open after 6:30 p.m. on a limited number of Wednesday nights — than about the entry fee.
"The biggest concern people have today is we're just not open at night enough," Council member Mark Frost said. "... That's an overwhelming issue that we've heard on the City Council over the last five or ten years."
Arntz said city staff are developing alternatives and budget impacts for a range of options and will present them to the council at next week's meeting for possible action.
Staff may also provide input from Mankato YMCA Executive Director John Kind about the feasibility of deciding to add hours just two weeks before Tourtellotte's scheduled opening day.
"He's the one having to hire the lifeguards," Arntz said.