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Wading pool to open thanks to Jaycees

WILLMAR -- The Willmar Jaycees wading pool at Rice Park is set to reopen possibly by Monday after a donation from the Jaycees provided the funds for a new drain cover.

The reopening may be short-lived, however, as Jaycee members and city officials hope to replace the aging pool with a new fountain park within the next few years.

"At some point, its useful life is going to come to an end," said Willmar Community Education and Recreation director Steve Brisendine of the pool, which was built with Jaycee donated funds in 1961.

The new drain cover will bring the pool under new state codes established by the Abigail Taylor Swimming Pool Safety Act, signed into law in May 2008. The law is named after Taylor, a 6-year-old girl who suffered ultimately fatal injuries from sitting on a drain at a St. Louis Park wading pool.

City officials had opted not to open the pool this summer, after it was determined by state inspectors that the concentrated suction of the Rice Park wading pool's single drain made it fall beneath the new standards established by the act.

To reopen the pool, officials thought they would have to install dual drains at a projected cost of $7,500, a price tag out of range for a city in tough budgetary times, said Brisendine.

When it was demonstrated that simply installing a drain cover would bring the pool up to code at a fraction of the cost, however, Brisendine turned to the Jaycees, asking if they would be willing to donate the $1,000 needed for the cover.

"We said, 'yeah, we want to be a part of that,'" said Willmar Jaycees president Chad Pettis, who said members felt compelled to keep the pool that still bears the group's name open.

All the talk of the Rice Park pool raised the issue of what would replace it in the future, said Pettis, leading to the idea of building a new fountain park at Rice Park to replace the wading pool.

A fountain was an attractive idea, he said, because its lack of standing water would eliminate the need for a paid lifeguard, as well as any safety or liability concerns for the city.

Pettis estimated that the fountain park could be built with anything from $8,000 to $10,000, though he said a formal proposal would be needed for a more definite figure.

Willmar city administrator Michael Schmitt said he is not aware of any formal planning being done by the city on proposed fountains at Rice Park, but said it sounded like a real possibility based on his discussions so far.

"It seems very likely," he said.

Once plans are put in place, the park could be built entirely from money raised by the Jaycees over the next two years, said Pettis.

"I'd like to see it even sooner, if we could," he said.

To raise that money, Pettis said the Jaycees were considering holding a community meal at Rice Park, as well as devoting portions of the proceeds from the group's annual events to the project.

Donations from organizations like the Jaycees are especially important in times of recession, said Pettis, when free city services that many people take for granted can often be swept aside to balance budgets.

"The way things are going, it's important that organizations like us take part to make sure free services like this stay around," he said.