BOSCOBEL - Apparently, the Wisconsin River is more frightening than the COVID-19 virus, at least to a majority of both the Boscobel Park Commission and Common Council. In a pair of split votes during a joint meeting Monday night at the Blaine Gym, the two bodies agreed to proceed with opening the city swimming pool as soon as possible, with the main rationale being the danger the river posed to children if the pool remained closed throughout the summer.
July 1 is most likely the earliest possible opening as the pool still has to be emptied, cleaned, filled, chemically treated, checked and heated. In response to the decision, longtime pool managers Katie Reynolds and Julie Kendall tendered their resignations Tuesday morning.
“The numbers (of COVID-19 diagnoses) are going up, they’re not going down,” Park Commission President Kelly Randall said at the start of their meeting. “I think we’re erring on the side of caution. We’re all about safety for the kids, parents and grandparents.”
Randall was the only member of the Commission to vote not to open the pool. Voting ‘yes’ were Paul Beck, Stephanie Brown, Allie Harris, Jo Sommers and Jerry Vial. Milt Cashman was absent.
Beck reiterated comments he made at the Commission’s June 2 meeting about wanting to open the pool due to the danger posed by the river when children choose that swimming option should the pool remain closed.
“It’s just too dangerous; I don’t want that on my conscience,” he said.
However, Beck then raised concerns with going forward with the pool opening.
“Since 2008 these two have been managing the pool,” he said of Reynolds and Kendall. “That’s another thing to consider, who are we going to get to manage the pool? We’ll also need safety guidelines if we do decide to open the pool.”
Reynolds informed the audience the Grant County Health has advised against opening swimming pools at this time.
“I don’t feel it’s safe for anyone,” she said. “The health people say no. I just have a great respect for this virus; it’s deadly. I’m not going to feel responsible if some kids go to the river. They could go down to the river now. I don’t think the pool is the savior for COVID.”
However, as far as public comments were concerned, Reynolds was in the minority.
“Open the pool but swim at your own risk,” said Rita Thompson.
“I think the pool should be open,” added Denise McQuirk. “The kids are already playing together, swimming, biking. I think there’s a way to keep these kids safe.”
“I’ve literally had more drownings in my 13 years with the department than I can count. We had one today. If we can save one child by opening the pool, I think it’s worth it,” said DNR warden Cody Adams.
“Open it up. Prairie, Dodgeville, Cassville, Muscoda, Gays Mills, everyone else has,” said Vial.
New Jersey native and Boscobel librarian Robin Orlandi said the COVID-19 virus has hit her home state particularly hard.
“Does anyone here know anyone who has died from COVID? I know three,” she said. “Everyone’s worried about children dying in the river, but the same thing could happen with COVID in the pool. The threat is real and it’s worse than anyone here can imagine.”
City Attorney Ben Wood said there are potential legal ramifications to opening the pool, but much still remains unknown at this time.
“The city and Council members could be held liable in the event of a COVID death at the pool,” he said. “It’s a very small possibility, but if our insurance company doesn’t cover us we could be liable. It’s a really, really tough decision. The entire coronavirus/COVID situation, well, we haven’t gotten any solid information from anyone. No one really knows. There’s a lot of grey area.”
Following the Park Commission’s recommendation, the Common Council voted 4-2-1-1 to re-open the pool as soon as possible.
Voting ‘yes’ were Stephanie Brown, Steve Fritz, Gary Kjos and Krissy Schneider. Barb Bell and Roger Brown voted against opening the pool, while Brian Kendall abstained and Brenda Kalish was absent.
The Park Commission is now tasked with finding a new pool manager(s) and developing safety protocols in a short time span. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has issued a long list of health considerations during the coronavirus pandemic on its website for maximizing pool safety.
And then there’s the need for a new public swimming pool in Boscobel.
“We need a new pool,” Beck said. There’s no doubt in my mind.”
Cost estimates range from $2.5 million to $3.3 million.“I’d estimate there are five to ten years left in that pool’s life,” said Director of Public Works Mike Reynolds.