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Consensus: Build the pool, but where?

Mayor Ken Tracy listens as Dan Beukelman, of Mitchell, speaks Wednesday night at City Hall in Mitchell during a public forum on the proposal to build a competition-sized indoor pool next to Dakota Wesleyan University’s as-yet unbuilt wellness center on the south side of the school’s campus in Mitchell. (Chris Mueller/Republic)

The cost, the features and the location of a proposed competition-sized indoor pool that could be built in the city were the focus of a public forum on the project Wednesday night at City Hall in Mitchell.

Residents filled the seats, aisles and entranceway to City Hall's Council Chambers to discuss a proposal to build an indoor pool next to Dakota Wesleyan University's as-yet unbuilt wellness center on the south side of the school's campus in Mitchell.

Mayor Ken Tracy addressed the crowd at the outset of the event, and said the its purpose was to allow city officials to gauge resident's interest in the city proceeding with the project, and to discuss the proposed location of the pool.

"It's great to see this group of people here tonight and the interest that's been shown," Tracy said.

Tracy estimated the crowd at the forum to be about 125-150 people. Council Chambers was at full capacity, which is 94 people. During the meeting, there were times when one person entered from the hallway to speak, and then another had to leave to keep from going over capacity.

At last week's regular Mitchell City Council meeting, the council created a fund dedicated to the city's proposal to build an indoor pool. Then, the council gave initial approval to supplement that fund with $25,000 to pay for an architect to design the project. The ordinance will go to a second reading and final vote at the council's next meeting, scheduled for next Tuesday, due to Monday's Labor Day holiday.

At the conclusion of the forum, the consensus among residents seemed be supportive of building an indoor pool, though questions remained where such a facility should be built in the city.

Dakota Wesleyan plans to begin work this fall on a $10 million, 90,000-square-foot wellness center. Groundbreaking for the center is scheduled for 5 p.m. Sept. 18. If the city builds an indoor swimming pool, the two facilities could be built next to other, or could even be attached.

Dakota Wesleyan President Amy Novak said the school is offering the city a $1-per-year lease for 100 years on the land next to its as-yet unbuilt wellness center for the proposed indoor pool.

"It's simply an offer," she said. "There are no strings attached to it."

Novak said the partnership being developed between Dakota Wesleyan and the city, as well as Avera Queen of Peace Hospital, is a positive for the community.

"It's exciting to see the energy around collaborative projects," she said.

Avera Queen of Peace Regional President and CEO Tom Clark said the hospital has developed its partnership with Dakota Wesleyan and the city in an effort to further promote wellness in the community.

Clark said the health care industry is shifting away from treating the sick, and toward keeping people healthy.

"Our business is going to shift toward trying to keep people well," he said.

In response to a question from a resident, council members Mel Olson, Dan Allen and Randy Doescher each said the majority of residents who contacted them before the forum were in favor of building the pool away from Dakota Wesleyan's campus.

Tara Volesky, of Mitchell, said she supports the building an indoor pool in the city, but not at Dakota Wesleyan's campus.

"I think the people have spoken, and you've got to listen to Mitchell," she said, referring to the earlier comments from the council members.

Randy Sprung, a professor at Dakota Wesleyan, said the location at Dakota Wesleyan's campus would mean the pool would be built in the highly traveled corridor along Interstate 90, near other recent building developments.

"We could have an amazing fixture along the corridor of I-90," he said.

Mark Puetz, of Puetz Corporation, said he favors the location at Dakota Wesleyan's campus and thinks it would add to the personality of the facility.

"It has a lot of character," Puetz said of the campus. "Spending time at Dakota Wesleyan, you get a vibrancy from those students."

In response to some of the objections directed toward the location at Dakota Wesleyan's campus, Novak encouraged city officials and residents to consider the benefits of the location and the school's presence in the city.

"We're all together," she said. "We need to learn to work together and we need to learn to live together."

Tracy said the city's proposed indoor swimming pool is expected to cost roughly $6 million. Despite the proximity of the two projects, the city and school would pay for their own facilities and not share in the cost of construction.

The Mitchell Aquatic Club has pledged to raise $1 million if the city chooses to move ahead with the project.

Ryan Huber, the club's president, said he was pleased the discussion at Wednesday night's forum seemed to focus more on where to build the indoor pool, not whether the pool should be built at all.

Huber said he supports the proposed location at Dakota Wesleyan's campus because of the visibility in that spot, given the traffic passing by on I-90.

"They're going to be able to see that we're a well-kept community," he said.

Tracy said additional funding for the proposed facility could be found by adding to a tax already imposed on the city's hotels and motels. Before the city built a second indoor ice rink at the Mitchell Activities Center last year, the city's hotels and motels agreed to a voluntary, $1-per-night tax on occupied rooms to help fund construction of the rink and to help create a sports authority that will work to attract more events to the city. State law allows the tax, which is imposed through a business improvement district, to be raised to $2-per-night tax, Tracy said.

Tracy said the city's hotel and motel owners have been approached about potentially raising the tax. While no decision has been made, Tracy said, the response from owners so far has been positive.