With the temperatures already hovering above 90 degrees, a dip in a swimming pool would be refreshing.
The rural communities in Fillmore and Houston Counties are fortunate to have city-run swimming pools in communities like Chatfield, Preston, Rushford, Spring Grove, and Spring Valley.
But, due to concerns relating to the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing, as of the first week of June, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz still has not allowed for community swimming pools to be open to the public.
In Chatfield, home to the newest community swimming pool in Southeast Minnesota that opened last summer, City Clerk Joel Young said, “The City of Chatfield has every intention of opening the pool, if county, state and federal guidelines allow.”
According to Young, the City Council has not set a drop-dead date for when it would not be economically feasible to open the pool. With the cost of labor (such as lifeguards), chemicals and operating supplies, utilities, and insurance, the pool staff accounts for about half of the annual expenditures. Another consideration is that the Chatfield pool requires 214,000 gallons of water. The estimated cost of getting the pool ready for the public is around $6,000, and costs another $150 per day for the power and chemicals needed to the maintain the pool.
The City of Chatfield normally opens their swimming pool on the first Thursday of June and closes it up by the middle of August. Chatfield runs into the same issue other communities face. The availability of lifeguards diminishes as the school year approaches.
When asked if they will be able to offer swimming lessons, Young indicated that they are now allowed by the county and state, so the City of Chatfield is in the process of developing a Preparedness Plan that would allow lessons to be provided. Classes would be restricted to nine students or less.
In the Trout City, swimmers are splashing in the Root River and backyard pools for the moment — waiting for word on whether the City of Preston will be allowed to open for the season. These hot days would draw crowds from the first part of June until mid-August. But not these days.
Just like in Chatfield, Preston Administrator Joe Hoffman indicated that the Preston City Council has not made a decision of whether they will open up the pool if allowed to do so.
Hoffman is optimistic that even if the season is cut short, they would consider opening the pool to the public, “If we have enough lifeguards, I would be in favor of opening for even a five week season. Given the current circumstances, I believe the children (and parents) of our community would appreciate it.” He figures it would cost about $3,000 to fill the pool and prepare it for the public, however he thinks they can cut costs by more than half if they don’t paint the pool this year.
At this time, Preston is currently not offering swimming lessons.
In the City of Rushford, they have not made a decision yet. They are the same boat as Chatfield, Preston, Spring Grove, and Spring Valley.
According to City Clerk/Treasurer Erin Konkel, the famous “Spring Grove Family Swim Center will not be open for public swim at this time, but we will be open for swimming lessons. We are hoping to begin sign up soon with a start date of June 15. We are typically open June through August.” Konkel said they’d like to open it up to the public in the future if the governor allows.
John Fenske, Parks & Recreation Director for the City of Spring Valley, said, “No final decision has been made at this time.” He was really hoping to open this month yet, “but the governor and the Spring Valley City Council will both have to give their approval.”
“If we can’t open before July 4, in my opinion, it would be hard to justify, but again the council will have the final say,” offered Fenske.
He cited many of the same challenges Spring Valley may face if pools are allowed to open much later in the season. Just like other communities, they may struggle to get lifeguards who will be preparing for college or high school fall sports as mid-August approaches. Spring Valley has historically opened their pool to the public during the first week of June and then closed it up on the Sunday of their Ag Days celebration.