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Benson Schools to close indoor pool

Benson School Board Member Bill McGeary, right, and Maintenance Supervisor Robert Neuman look over the area below the indoor swimming pool floor Monday during a tour of the pool. School board members voted five-to-two to close the indoor pool at the end of the school year and determine a new use for the area. (TOM CHERVENY | TRIBUNE)

BENSON — A four-decade run of indoor swimming may come to a close in Benson with the end of the school year.

Benson School Board members voted 5-2 Monday to close the pool when school adjourns. It is believed to have opened in 1976.

The motion by members Gary Williams and Chad Payne calls on the district to close the pool and investigate new use for the space, although there was also discussion about determining whether it is feasible to increase revenues for its operations. Williams, who authored the motion, said he believes that funds for upkeep of the pool are taking away from academic and preschool programming the district would like to offer.

The motion came as board members looked at estimates for updating the pool’s lighting system. It would cost anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000 to repair the existing fixtures, or upward of $25,000 to install a new LED lighting system, according to information presented to the board.

The pool’s ceiling panels recently had to be removed. The district has been investing in repairs related to the age of the system. Superintendent Dennis Laumeyer said the district has spent $165,453 for pool maintenance costs in the last 10 years.

Board members said the pool does not see the use by students and the public that they would like. An effort this past year to promote its use did not significantly increase overall usage, according to Shelly Vergin, community services director for the district.

Vergin told board members that her department offered after-school parties and promoted swimming lessons and community swim events to increase usage. The efforts met with initial success, she said. The after-school parties started off really big, but numbers dwindled over time, she said.

A proposal to close the pool in 2014 met with opposition from pool users, and they voiced concerns again about closing the pool. Swimmer Eric Ose told board members that the pool is an important community asset that is well worth the funds invested. He encouraged the school to take better advantage of it by scheduling more physical education classes in it.

Joyce Nokleby, also an avid pool user, pointed out that district voters supported the pool when they approved bonding for its construction in the mid-1970s.

“We voted for this. We paid that bill,’’ she said.

Investments in upgrading and maintaining the pool are no different than providing football, hockey or other athletic opportunities, she said.

Board members Bill McGeary and Alan Abner cast the two votes against closing the pool. During discussions, McGeary called the pool a community asset that needs to be marketed more effectively.

But Abner expressed his concerns about the costs of its upkeep, a recurring theme during the discussions. “(It’s) going to get to the point, where do you stop the bleeding?’’ he said.

Members Williams, Payne, Al Pagel, Jason Madden and Jodi DeJong-Hughes voted for the motion to close the pool.

“I’d rather spend money for young children than a swimming pool,’’ said Williams during the discussion.

He pointed out that the district is interested in expanding preschool programming, and would like to see more resources available to do so.

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Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

(320) 214-4335
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