City council agrees to continue splitting annual debt; pool won’t reopen for at least two months

    The Crookston School Board is moving ahead on the replacement of the filter at the Crookston Community Swimming Pool, but it's going to take about two months for it to arrive, and then it has to be installed.   

    A shutdown of that length was not music to the ears of Jill Schisano, a frequent pool user who attended this week's Crookston City Council meeting, at which the council agreed to continue splitting the pool's annual operating deficit with the school district – around $66,000 from each entity per year – for at least the next eight years, a financial commitment that Superintendent Chris Bates told the council was necessary to provide some budget stability while the district tries to pay off the approximately $111,000 cost of the project.   

    "No!" Schisano said while seated in the front row of the city hall council chambers. "I'm getting fat!" Her remark triggered a burst of laughter in the chambers.   

    The school board approved the project, with Horizon Pool Supply of St. Paul supplying the equipment and installing the filter for $80,528. Crookston Welding was also awarded a portion of the project, installing the bilge tank, for $31,000.       

    But the approval was contingent on the council agreeing allocate up to $66,000 a year toward the pool for the next eight years. The city and school district have done so for years, but Bates said it's critical that the school board knows it can count on the city.    

    The eight year duration coincides with the number of years remaining on the 10-year pool-specific operating levy referendum approved by school district voters approximately two years ago. Thanks to that vote, approximately $165,000 a year is generated for the pool. The initial plan was to take the school district's annual budget deficit allocation from that amount each year and then spend the rest on improvements to the facility.   

    That vision has been skewed by the pool filter breakdown, which was an unfortunate surprise earlier this spring even though the equipment that failed dates back to the pool's opening more than 30 years ago.   

    In order to pay for the new filter, School District Business Manager Laura Lyczewski said the district will essentially give itself an interest-free loan from the general fund, which will be paid back from pool levy money over the next few years.   

    "This is not the greatest financial situation, but we have no choice," Bates added. "If we want to keep the pool open we have to do this."   

    Meanwhile, Marley Melbye has been hired as the new pool manager, succeeding the retired Ken Stromberg. She was supposed to start her new job last week, but with the broken filter shutting down the facility, Polk County Public Health is allowing Melbye to remain in her current position until the pool is ready to open. That is saving the district valuable dollars, a grateful Bates said, and even though revenue from swimming lessons is being lost because of the pool's closure, the district might actually save money in the end from not having to pay operational costs while the facility is shut down.   

    On the plus side, the $111,000 cost for the new filter is about half of what the district was initially told it would cost when it broke down, Bates said. But on the downside, there's still more than $700,000 needed for a new roof, boiler and ventilation system at the pool. The initial plan was to include those projects in the comprehensive project package in the three school buildings taking place over the summer that various bonds – some requiring voter approval, some not – are financing. But then the Minnesota attorney general's office put the brakes on the abatement bonds that would have financed the pool work, Bates said, even though cities and counties are still able to utilize abatement bonds. The state has since allowed the school district to issue abatement bonds for new parking lots at the high school, but the pool projects remain in financial limbo.   

    Unless something changes in St. Paul, Bates said the district will likely have to borrow the money to do the work. "You have to have a roof, you need a boiler and you need an air-handling system," he said.   

    It's likely that much of the remaining money from the pool levy would go toward paying off the roof, boiler and ventilation system. "Without the referendum, I don't know what we would do; it's going to be pretty much wiped out for the next eight years," Bates said. "We're trying to get this pieced together on what we're going to borrow. It's a precarious road for us, with nothing left for the small things, but the money's going to be all used up."