Sparta pool to remain closed
An alderman’s effort to open the Sparta Aquatic Center in light of a new COVID-19 assessment system rolled out by a consortium of area county health departments failed to pass at Wednesday’s Sparta City Council meeting.
The vote was the third in as many weeks by the council, which approved a modified opening of the pool on May 26 and then voted to keep it closed at a June 1 meeting after state health officials came out with a recommendation to not open pools.
Alderman Jim Church, who has been a vocal proponent of opening the pool, introduced the measure at Wednesday’s meeting to open the facility, referring to the Coulee COVID-19 Compass, a recently rolled out system that assesses the risk level from the COVID virus both regionally and by county.
Each risk level, ranging from low to severe, is color coded and accompanied by a set of guidelines, which includes recommendations on how and when to open pools.
“This is what we’ve been asking for as a committee – something to go off of and lead us forward,” said Church, who also chairs the Park Board, which oversees the Aquatic Center.
He pointed out that the Compass status Wednesday night for Monroe County was orange, which means high, but includes guidelines for allowing pools to open with 25% capacity. Before this week when eight new positive cases of COVID-19 were reported, Monroe County was at yellow or moderate risk, allowing for opening at 50% capacity.
Church argued that the council should turn the power over to the Parks & Recreation Department to run the pool according to the recommendations set out by the Compass.
Parks & Recreation Director Brad Gilbertson said there are several problems with opening the pool at this point, including the fact the pool had been drained and his lead lifeguards have found other employment.
A problem, he said, that could be exacerbated by the fact the county’s risk status could change at any time.
“If we’re directed to follow this (Compass), we could be open one week and closed the next week,” he said, with the job uncertainty making it difficult to maintain staffing.
The pool also likely wouldn’t be ready to open until June 29, since it needs to be refilled and the water conditioned for swimming. Lifeguards would need to complete in-pool training before opening.
Church reminded the council that it used the available “guidelines” as the reason for closing the pool and the new available Compass guidelines made it possible to open the pool. He suggested the value to the community outweighed the cost.
City Attorney Jim Hellman said from a liability standpoint, the city was safe since it would be following the county’s guidelines.
“Finances have never been part of my equation,” said Alderman Kevin Riley, who has been a staunch supporter of the Aquatic Center. “There are too many hypotheticals and too many unknowns. It can change on a weekly basis and you can’t run any business that way.”
“I think this has been decided and you let the decision stand,” he said, supporting keeping the facility closed.
In the end, Church, Kevin Brueggeman and Mathew Hoffland voted to open the pool, while Bruce Humphrey, Norm Stanek, Riley, Josh Lydon and Ed Lukasek voted to keep it closed.