Edwardsville residents finally have a city pool, one that may be familiar to students and staff at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
The city of Edwardsville agreed to lease the former Cougar Lake Pool from SIUE and operate it as a community pool. The city will pay SIUE $2,001 per year and will operate the pool with its own employees and conduct required maintenance, according to Vice Chancellor Rich Walker.
The $2,000 is intended to make whole the parking department, which cannot lose money under the structure of the university’s finances, Walker said. The remaining dollar is the actual lease on the pool, he said, and residents using the pool will be able to park in the student lot for free.
But that’s only part of the cost. The city assumes operation and maintenance of the pool, which Mayor Hal Patton said they estimate at about $75,000 a year. At the moment, he said, they have a conservative estimate of $56,000 per year in revenue, based on the last 10 years of operation; the city would be responsible for about $19,000 shortfall.
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“But we have an increased pool of people to market to,” Patton said. “Hopefully we would see an increase in visitors to offset the cost.” Patton said they are also seeking corporate sponsors to help with the costs of the pool.
The pool, which includes a slide and a “splash pad” area for younger children, sits at the end of an access road off a parking lot that is normally a paid student lot. The fenced-in pool area overlooks Cougar Lake and its adjacent picnic areas, which also serve as frequent nesting grounds for the resident SIUE geese.
It’s a quality of life opportunity. It’s nice that we have restaurants and shops developing in town, but people also are traveling a lot for recreational opportunities like baseball and soccer.
Edwardsville Mayor Hal Patton
The pool has a locker room and restroom building and concession stand, which will also be operated by the city. The city Parks and Recreation Department has already put out ads for lifeguards, service workers and other employees to work part-time during the summer.
Walker, who is a former Edwardsville city councilman as well as the interim vice chancellor at the university, said the pool has seen declining use by students over several years. “This seemed like a good way to bring the community in,” he said. “They’ll pay for that benefit and allow our students to use it at the same time, as opposed to simply closing it, which would be a shame.”
Patton said interim SIUE Chancellor Stephen Hansen approached him months ago about leasing the pool. Walker acknowledged that the operational cost of the pool was a factor in their decision. “We look at everything to save money, and this is a facility that had declining use,” Walker said.
And it’s not the first time the issue of a municipal pool had been floated in Edwardsville. Patton said as far back as 2000, officials from Edwardsville, Glen Carbon and the township worked with civic organizations to examine the feasibility of building or buying a pool for public use. “This is the first time we could do it without the capital expense (of building it),” Patton said.
Patton said he believes student use of the pool had declined due to the growth of off-campus student housing. “Those housing facilities have their own pools and they tend to gather there,” he said.
But SIUE students will still be able to use the pool, Walker said. “Our students are residents, too, so we’re all still doing good things for our residents,” he said. “From the university’s perspective, it’s another partnership we have with the city, like the fire station.”
Edwardsville is currently building a fire station on SIUE property to better facilitate response times to the campus and points west, including the Gateway Commerce Center.
“We want to encourage these things,” Walker said. “The university wants a stronger relationship with the city. Being situated in the middle of 2,060 acres sometimes separates us.”
That partnership also extends beyond Edwardsville, Patton said. He has approached Glen Carbon officials with a cost-sharing proposal allowing their residents to use the pool as well. He said Edwardsville has proposed to split any shortfall in costs over revenue at the end of each year according to the population of both towns; likely similar to a 65-to-35-percent split, he said. Any improvements over $1,000 would have to be approved by the appropriate councils of both municipalities.
Patton said some Glen Carbon officials were concerned about the financial exposure and liability. The proposal has been approved at the committee level, but has not yet come to the Glen Carbon Village Board for a final vote.
“In the end, I think this is a pretty low-risk opportunity for both of us,” Patton said.
Prior to the vote, Edwardsville city leaders conducted an online survey of residents on the issue of the pool. Of the 533 respondents, 89 percent were in favor of making the pool available to residents and agreed that making use of the pool is an effective expansion of recreational opportunities.
But it won’t come free to city residents. Family memberships start at $300 a year, or $125 for senior citizens. Day passes will be available for $5 per day, $4 for seniors and children ages 4 to 15. Toddlers and babies are admitted free. Private rentals also will be available. As part of the lease agreement with SIUE, students will be permitted to use the pool for free.
Patton said about 170 of the survey respondents said they would be interested in a family membership, while 76 percent said they would be interested in the daily-use fee.
The City Council gave unanimous approval to the plan last week.
We want to encourage these things. The university wants a stronger relationship with the city. Being situated in the middle of 2,060 acres sometimes separates us.
SIUE Vice Chancellor Rich Walker
“It’s a quality of life opportunity,” Patton said. “It’s nice that we have restaurants and shops developing in town, but people also are traveling a lot for recreational opportunities like baseball and soccer.”
As mayor, Patton has put a heavy emphasis on developing recreational uses. The city is building a “spray-n-play” park and splash pad next to the new fire and police station near downtown, and work continues on developing a major athletic complex in town for soccer and baseball fields.
“There are 33 softball or baseball teams in town that never play a game in Edwardsville,” Patton said. “They have to play in other communities because we don’t have the space.”
That project on 70 acres in east Edwardsville is still in the works, and may go to the design phase next year, Patton said. In the meantime, the spray-n-play park is running behind schedule due to the winter storms. It had been slated to open on Memorial Day, but is now aiming for June 14.
“We’re a little bit behind, but working hard to finish as close to the original date as possible,” Patton said. “They’re getting ready to pour the surface on the spray-n-play and set the blocks of the concessions building. They tell me from here, it should go up pretty quickly.”
But what will open on Memorial Day will be the pool formerly known as Cougar Lake Pool, now under new management.