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Bloomington Council Could Vote on O'Neil Pool Project Next Week

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Andrew Caputo, of Williams Architects, shares a screen during a remote meeting of the committee-of-the-whole of Bloomington City Council on Monday, March 15, 2021.

The O’Neil Park and Pool project, now expected to cost about $11.5 million, could be voted on by the  Bloomington City Council as early as next week. 

After a presentation at its committee-of-the-whole meeting on Monday, the council learned that despite the project’s cost coming in about $1.5 million higher than expected, City Manager Tim Gleason still supports moving forward with the city’s preferred plan. That’s nearly identical to the one presented at a community forum in January.

If approved, the new aquatic center is set to open Memorial Day 2022. 

Also at the meeting, Bloomington Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts Director Jay Tetzloff told the council that Holiday Pool will be open this season. But patrons will have to sign up and register for swim time slots. That’s a sign that pandemic restrictions are beginning to ease — but not disappear.

Andrew Caputo, who heads the O’Neil project for Itasca-based Williams Architects, led Monday's discussion, sharing a presentation of the staff's preferred Phase 1 design.

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This slide from Monday's meeting shows a detail of the proposed O'Neil Pool complex.

That would include expanded parking and a reconstructed skate park with modern updates. But the jewel would be a water park built into the footprint of the city’s former pool at Chestnut Street and White Oak Road. The new complex would have a lap pool with a diving board, activity pool, and a 325-foot-long lazy river. It also would include water slides, a splash pad, and other amenities, including a bath house and concessions.

It would be the only public park in Bloomington-Normal with a lazy river feature.

“Staff have been very conscientious about the cost,” said Gleason, of the project in the works for more than three years. It’s intended as an economic development tool, and quality-of-life boost for the city’s west side. It would replace the 45-year-old O’Neil Pool that was razed last fall.

“Bloomington deserves this. This neighborhood deserves this,” and that’s what the community and the council has told city staff, said Gleason.

Tetzloff told the council with the east side Holiday Pool's original structure also about 45 years old, it makes the stronger investment in O’Neil Pool even more important.

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This slide from Monday's meeting shows a detail of the proposed O'Neil Park skate park replacement.

On Monday, most council members supported Gleason’s vision for the full project. But several asked for a breakdown of costs.

“'There could be something where we say, hey, maybe we should cut this. But it doesn't cost that much money. You're not saving that much, but something else maybe would save you more money,” said council member Jeff Crabill.

Gleason said he’ll send council members an email Tuesday outlining some of those cutback options, as well as some 20- to 30-year bond scenarios. 

“When you’re looking at about an $11.5 million bond to build this, I am confident that this (higher price) would be low- or no-cost impact to our residents. So we’re not looking at some moderate to high-priced additional revenue stream in order to pay for this amenity for our community,” he said.

At the January forum, Tetzloff said the city anticipates increasing fees for daily admission and season pass fees. In 2019, a $29 season pass allowed unlimited entry to both O'Neil and Holiday pools.

Several council members also expressed concern the improved facility would have admission prices that would be prohibitive to neighborhood residents, and that the splash pad wouldn’t be accessible for free during pool hours.

“What I would hate more than anything is for the kids in the neighborhood to be on the outside looking in, and they can't afford to go to this wonderful amenity. So, how can we deal with that?” said council member Joni Painter.  

Tetzloff said the parks department does offer some income-based scholarships. Painter suggested fundraising in a way similar to what is done for Miller Park Zoo.

Whether to keep the splash pad a no-cost option remains open for discussion, said Gleason, noting the project's focus has been on neighborhood access, he said.

If the council doesn't want the splash pad to be part of paid admission, that's OK, he said. "It just needs to be known that we're going to lose a certain portion of revenue (with that option). But at the end of the day, that revenue may not be great enough to provide an amenity to the neighborhood and the community," said Gleason.

The city manager said he'd like to have the council vote on the proposal by March 22 or April 12 in order for Williams Architects to stay on its design and construction schedule. 

That schedule calls for completing design by June, handling bids and negotiations by August, and beginning construction this fall. 

Down the road, the plan calls for rebuilding basketball courts that would be knocked down for the 2022 construction project. It also includes the potential of adding tennis and pickleball courts, a nature area, a dog park, and batting cages. 

Crabill asked how the skate park was selected as the first amenity, besides the pool, to be revamped. He said a number of community members are disappointed the basketball courts would be torn down, and not replaced right away. Tetzloff said the skate park was chosen for Phase 1 because the expanded parking lot would cut into the existing skate park. Possibly, Tetzloff said, city staff could rebuild the basketball courts on their own.

Council members Jenn Carrillo and Mollie Ward were absent from Monday’s meeting.

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Michele Steinbacher is a WGLT correspondent. She joined the staff in 2020.
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