Leaders of both entities seem to agree it makes more sense for city to own facility, but the dollars need to add up.

    Crookston School District and City of Crookston leaders are making a concerted effort to transfer ownership of the Crookston Community Swimming Pool from the school district to the city. The thinking is that the pool’s long-term future would be less tenuous under city ownership and that, with Parks & Recreation under the city umbrella, there might be ways to utilize the facility more than it’s being used now.

    Plus, Crookston School Board Chair Frank Fee said at the first meeting of the district’s Long Range Planning Committee, “ninety percent” of Crookston residents probably think the city already owns the pool, anyway.

    New Crookston School District Superintendent Jeremy Olson formed the new committee earlier this summer. City officials and members of the Crookston City Council were invited to Tuesday’s meeting in the district office conference room at the high school to discuss the future ownership of the pool and renewing the expired usage agreement between the school district and city at Crookston Sports Center, which the city owns.

    It’s possible that the financial arrangements between the city and school district involving both facilities will be somewhat tied together; that is, they could be if the two entities are able to work out an agreement to transfer ownership of the swimming pool.

    Early on in Tuesday’s discussion, Olson said that any deal the school district would agree to regarding pool ownership would be contingent on current Pool Manager Cody Brekken keeping his job. “He does a great job and he’s a valuable asset to the community, Olson said.

    City Administrator Shannon Stassen concurred with that stipulation. “The city works closely with (Brekken), too,” he said. “We don’t want him to get caught up in this in any negative way at all, or anyone, for that matter, associated with the pool in any way, whether it’s volunteers or user groups. At the very least we’d hope things stay the same with all of them, but we’d actually hope that going forward it would be a better situation for everybody.”

Discussions ramp up
    For years, school district leaders have made no secret about their desire to somehow transfer ownership of the pool to the city, saying that for a multitude of reasons it makes more sense for the city to own it than the school district.

    City leaders over the years, for their part, have been less open in their desire to own the pool, while agreeing that it probably does make more sense for it to be owned by the city that could potentially maximize its usage through Parks & Recreation.

    For years, the city has contributed dollars annually to the district to help with the pool’s operating budget. The annual allocation currently sits at $66,000, part of an eight-year agreement the two entities agreed to several years ago.

    Ideally, Stassen said Tuesday, the school district would be able to essentially flip the equation by contributing $66,000 to a city-owned pool, but Olson said that would be impossible, at least when it comes to an annual contribution at that level.

    But there are ways to get close to that amount for the next several years, he added. School district voters eight years ago approved a 10-year referendum that has around $168,000 a year in revenue coming in that’s earmarked specifically for pool operations. In two years that referendum will expire, but Olson said that, after the district takes $105,000 out of the next allocation and makes its final payment to itself after the district paid for a new pool roof up front, the city, as part of a pool ownership transfer agreement, could have the remaining amount, approximately, $63,000. Then, the district in the following year would transfer the final referendum revenue allocation of approximately $168,000 to the city.

    That remaining referendum revenue, when added to around $30,000 a year that Olson and school board members think they’d be able to give to the city to help with pool operations from the district’s annual lease-levy allotment from the state, would at least for the next several years add up to almost $66,000 a year in the form of a district contribution to the city to boost the pool budget.

    That was the proposal that Olson made to Stassen, Mayor Wayne Melbye, city Finance Director Angel Weasner and city council member Steve Erickson, after Olson and board members exited the committee meeting to discuss the matter in another room for around 20 minutes.

    Olson said the district is around $30,000 under its annual lease levy maximum cap, which he said is spent on facilities that the district uses but doesn’t own.

    Asked about the overall condition of the pool building, district Buildings, Grounds and Transportation Director Rick Niemela said the annual revenue approved by voters has had a major impact. The money has financed new lighting, a new pool bottom, air handling system and dehumidification, new roof, new boiler, and electrical updates. All that remains to be done, he said, is some more electrical updates and metal covering on the remaining 25 percent or so of deteriorating cement blocks have deteriorated.

Tied to CSC agreement?
    The latest agreement between the city and school district regarding the district’s use of Crookston Sports Center expired earlier this summer and needs to be renewed. A new agreement regarding the district’s use of the CSC became part of the pool ownership discussion Tuesday, with Olson proposing that, if the city ends up owning the pool, the district’s annual CSC usage payment to the city remain flat at $112,584, which is what the district paid the city to use the CSC in 2017-18.

    That would mark a change from the agreement that expired this summer, which had the district paying 3 percent more each year to use the CSC.

    If discussions on a pool ownership transfer falter and the district continues to own the pool, Olson proposed, a new CSC usage agreement would include annual increases that match the current state of state education funding to the district. In recent years, annual state funding increases have ranged from half a percent to two percent, he said.

    The district’s proposal would have the city taking over pool ownership on July 1, 2019, which would be the first day of the district’s 2019-20 fiscal year. The city operates on a calendar budget.

    Mayor Melbye said the next step would be for the Park Board and the council’s Ways & Means Committee to discuss the district’s proposal.

    “We made pretty good progress here,” he said.

    “We’re pretty darn close to where you wanted to be,” Olson replied. “I know it’s not how you wanted it structured, but overall, it’s close.”

    Although no official agreements were hammered out Tuesday, one thing everyone in the room seemed to agree on was that it would be a very bad thing for the swimming pool to close its doors.

    “Where it’s at right now is, do we want to have a pool or not? I think the voters said they want it, but if the district can’t afford it, it’s going to go away. That’s what everyone in the community is kind of concerned about,” Melbye said. “…But my thought is, everyone in this room is going to catch holy hell if that place shuts down and goes away.”