Simplified: The parks board and the City Council this week got a closer look at the financials behind plans to build a new pool at Kuehn Park, an indoor recreation center at Frank Olson Park and to purchase the west-side Sanford Wellness Center. Here's what we learned.

Why it matters

  • The initial cost for the three facilities totals $77 million – an amount the council will consider approving over the next couple of weeks in the form of a bond (essentially the city's equivalent of taking out a 20-year loan).
  • Pools aren't historically a money-maker for cities, and Sioux Falls is no exception. The city pays about $1.8 million annually to subsidize the existing city pools, and right now any income generated by the pools covers about one fifth of what it costs to run them, according to data presented to the council by Finance Director Shawn Pritchett this week.
  • The city's projections for the ongoing costs of the new facilities, though, are estimating revenue covering 80% (four fifths, if you, like me, need an apples-to-apples comparison). That's based on assumptions that a pool pass will cost $40 per month for an individual and $60 per month for a family, said Leon Younger, a consultant hired by the city.
  • Those numbers got a strong reaction from councilors, who stressed the importance of keeping these new pools accessible to the public.
"When I hear $40, $50, $60 a month, that's too high," Councilor David Barranco said. "I'm not going to be comfortable charging people those kind of levels per month. I think we're going to need to find a better solution."

Tell me more about the new pools

Here's a look at the plan as it stands now:

Get a look at what’s coming for the new Frank Olson and Kuehn Park pools
The Sioux Falls City Council will decide in the coming weeks whether the city should invest $77 million in new aquatics and indoor recreation facilities.

What else are councilors saying?

Councilor Curt Soehl expressed frustration that it's taken four years to get to this point in the replacing the pools, and that there's still years left in the process.

Councilor Sarah Cole asked if it'd be possible to make some of the amenities – including the proposed indoor playground and indoor walking track at Frank Olson – free for users, while still charging for use of things like the indoor pool.

  • To that, Parks Director Don Kearney noted that these types of changes would affect the financial projections laid out for the pools.

Councilor Rich Merkouris noted his skepticism at the financial projections, which estimated the city spending about $860,000 per year in ongoing costs for the new Frank Olson center, Kuehn Park pool and Sanford Wellness Center.

"I expect the loss to be $2.5 million, not $800,000," he said.

Councilor Greg Neitzert, whose term ends this month, said at this point there's almost no scenario where he supports the bond vote, in large part because of his lack of support for the way financial projections were calculated.

  • He noted that the current model essentially just gives people who already have disposable incomes and an ability to access private recreation centers a slightly cheaper option.
"I want this to be a recreation center, which should serve everyone – not an entertainment center, which, if it's too expensive, this will be," Neitzert said.

What happens next?

The council is scheduled to vote to approve the $77 million bond in the next couple of weeks before four new faces join the City Council – though based on the reaction from some councilors this week, it's possible that timeline could be delayed.

The new pools are, at this point, planned to open in 2027, but, the timeline will be affected if the bond vote is delayed.