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Phillips Unites on Pool and Gym Use & Defeat of MPRB Burying Pool under Concrete

Olympic size pool built with Model City money in 1974 that’s future is in the throes of budgetary/politico squalor. The question remains; “Will it all be money down the drain?”.

A Commentary by Robert Albee

Two words went out over the internet the evening of March 25th: “We won!” The truth of the matter is that the Phillips Community has only secured a delay in the destruction of the swimming pool at the Phillips Community Center. The April 1st “destruction day” was announced earlier in a telephone call from Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board (MPRB) Commissioner Scott Vreeland. He confirmed a March 11th email sent from Park Board staff member Andrew Lesch to a Mid Town Phillips resident and neighborhood association board member.

In that email, Lesch wrote: “I’m the project manager for the current renovations at Phillips Community Center. This phase involves replacement of the heating, cooling and ventilation system with new roof top units, roof replacement of the upper roof and in fill of the former pool shell for re-use in the future.”

Those were the words that began a cascade of emails and telephone calls to the MPRB from Phillips Community residents and others upset with that decision. Some of the emails are included in this edition of in this edition of The Alley and see others on website www.alleynews.org.

Most importantly, Phillips people came through by voicing their concerns and outrages regarding the process that led to the MPRB decision to destroy the pool. Contractors speculated as to why the MPRB would go so far to actually destroy the pool when a simple, safe covering or enclosure over the pool would temporarily suffice. Apparently they had thought they already had made a permanent decision within a building that they already own. End of discussion…for them!

MPRB Commissioner Annie Young made clear in an email to Crystal Trutnau, Executive Director of Phillips West Neighborhood Organization, that the Park Board never operated that swimming pool; it was open only during the tenancy of the Boys and Girls Club in the PCC facility. Her thinking, presumably, was with all the liability issues associated with a swimming pool, why would the Park Board want to get itself involved in a potentially litigious situation, at the very time they are facing unbelievable operating fund deficits? Thus filling in the pool and making an indoor playground for children seemed a very good alternative! Not so fast, Annie, was the response of many emailers.

Many Phillips Community supporters expressed outrage at the lack of clear communication and respect toward the neighborhoods by MPRB staff and commissioners, only to be met with a snarky response from Commissioner Young that apparently the right persons in Phillips were not consulted. And so the back and forth began, with some very harsh letters from Ventura Village’s Jim Graham and East Phillip’s Carol Pass. But this story is not about a couple of grenades tossed over MPRB’s fence. Other emails less focused on personalities or past Park Board failures, demanded a halt long enough for the Phillips Community stakeholders to weigh in on the decision. To some, that would be a delay in announced actions; for others a demand for a complete aquatic park on adjacent land as a trade for the loss of the current pool.

MPRB staff member Dick Mammen attended a March 17th event entitled “Connecting The Dots…” held at the Center For Changing Lives. That meeting was an opportunity for Phillips residents and stakeholders to voice their positive ideas about future uses of the Phillips Community Center building, including the swimming pool. In direct conversation with me, Mammen asked why we would support fixing up a pool that’s like a “47 Chevy” instead of fighting for a new one. My response was, “I’d rather have a 47 Chevy than no wheels at all!”

I hope that is the sentiment of others in Phillips even though I would agree with the basic idea of a separate facility on adjacent land that can involve what East Phillip’s resident Hannah Lieder described as a complete swimming and diving complex. As part of her organization called Minneapolis Swims, youth such as those here in Phillips should be taught basic swimming and aquatic survival and encouraged to become lifeguards and competitive athletes in a facility that would support such efforts.

Just hours before I learned that the April 1st destruction deadline had been averted, I received an email from Dr. Sally Lieberman from the University of Minnesota. She reported that the therapeutic pool at Fairview-University Hospital had just been closed and no other pools except for the overly-busy Abbott-Northwestern Wasie pool is available in Minneapolis. This forces bus riders such as Dr. Lierberman to mount an expedition to the suburbs—to Courage Center in Golden Valley or another site in Eden Prairie for her/their physical well-being. She and seventy-five others planned to write letters to the MPRB asking them to reconsider. Within an hour of my encouraging Dr. Lieberman and associates to commence writing and sending, word came from Minneapolis’ Sixth Ward Alderman Robert Lilligren that MPRB had announced a halt order on the swimming pool. We’ve won a battle, but not the war!
Here’s where that leaves us: We’d better put up or shut up! We’ve secured a delay and now we must come to a conclusion regarding what we want to have happen as a result. It is clear that the MPRB has never—nor never will—operate a swimming pool in Phillips. So let’s not waste valuable time asking or demanding that from them. It is clear to me that our Phillips Community supporters and trusted bedfellows must secure that building on a twenty year lease for $1 per year from MPRB; pay them honestly and reasonably as landlords for the daily operations and appropriate upkeep of the building. That also means that we must secure tenancy and use of the building that includes paying for the operations of that facility, based on actually billings to the MPRB.
We must never allow what happened with the Boys and Girls Club to happen again—leaving a big mess behind and MPRB accepting a $40,000 pittance or “shut-up money” as one Phillips resident put it. Jim Graham is right! Somebody owes the Phillips Community millions of dollars from that last fiasco; but it should also be clear that even if we never legally recover a nickel from that period, we must move forward and demonstrate to all that we are much better stewards of this community’s resources than some of our predecessors.

If you wish to join this community effort to transform the vacant Phillips Community Center and it’s swimming pool into a facility that works effectively for all the residents and stakeholders of Phillips, contact me at ralbee4045@aol.com. My telephone number is 612.812.2429.

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6 Responses to “Phillips Unites on Pool and Gym Use & Defeat of MPRB Burying Pool under Concrete”

  1. Scott Vreeland says:

    Commissioner Vreeland “Weighs-in” on Pool and Gym Issue on Mar 27 with this e-mail message after a week of Controversy:
    By Scott Vreeland
    We will be delaying the reconstruction of the Phillips pool space until May 1st so that there can be additional community input and discussion of future use of this space.
    I wanted to add my perspective on the issue and provide context for the additional discussion that will now occur. I want to thank Commissioner Annie Young and President John Erwin and park staff for working with me on this issue. I understand that this is an emotional issue. As Commissioners, we have to make tough choices. I also realize that this is exactly the kind of issue that can be incredibly divisive because given unlimited resources…who wouldn’t want a pool?
    I have been at community meetings where this was discussed. And while none of us are happy about a pool we cannot fix, I thought it was pretty clear that we would not be using that space as a pool. Filling in a non functioning pool is a logical step for securing the building for reuse, which would allow us to plan for that space for indoor soccer or some other use of that space that would be the result of a planning process. (and I have received over 600 postcards, mostly from kids, asking for more places to play soccer.)
    This wasn’t a plan for reuse of the building, but basically a plan to secure the building so it could be used and reopened for some youth programming. So the conversations about how this building should be used are just beginning. On March 17th the community asked park staff to be part of a conversation in a well attended meeting about the future use of the building.
    What we have said is that our priority is to focus on teens at this location. Our strategy is to have a youth-led process to help guide the MPRB’s community engagement and planning process in Phillips and specifically at this building. Over 50% of the population of Phillips is under the age of 24 and very few, if any, young people are represented or included as decision makers. We are not choosing an easy path to do this, and there will be critics of this strategy, but I think it is a worthwhile endeavor.
    I think it is also important to put this in a city wide context: For the past four years the highest priority for MPRB neighborhood capital funding has been the Phillips community and there has been an investment of $4.1 million dollars for the only new Recreation Center in the city. This has not been an easy process, but it has resulted in a much better building as a result of the complex trail it took us to get to building a great building. (And it was a community lead initiative)
    Also this year, as a result of the request of the Ventura Village neighborhood organization, the Park Board approved a plan to use all of this year’s available capital funding to secure the Phillips Community Center building for future use. We have slotted $1.4 million dollars to do this. We also had as our highest priority for the Twins sales tax youth sport money, new soccer fields at Stewart Park and at East Phillips.
    I have tried to not take some of the untrue and unkind criticism or threats personally. I am willing to take the blame for not highlighting a decision that we said we were going to make, put on our published agenda, and now have a signed contract to complete the work which we are delaying.
    Our goal is to meet the recreational needs of the residents of the Phillips community in the most innovative, collaborative, sustainable and responsible ways possible. I would also note that the Park Board has made a commitment in our comprehensive plan to address the inequity of park facilities and amenities in North and Northeast Minneapolis, a task that has been made more difficult because of these difficult financial times.
    Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board
    Commissioner District # 3
    (612) 721-7892

  2. Shirley Heyer says:

    Shirley Heyer’s Response to Comm. Vreeland’s Mar 27th Defense of MPRB Actions and His Rationale for Eliminating the Pool:
    by Shirley Heyer
    March 27th The 500-600 petitions he [Vreeland] received for more soccer playing space came primarily from the Hispanic youth who have been using Green Central gym on Sundays, with individuals, individual teams, a CURA grant, Weed & Seed monies (up til this year) and at least 3 neighborhoods paying for the rent, uniforms, referees, equipment.
    The MPRB considers this “a cash cow” to permit us to use “their space” so long as we pay for it.
    Has anyone measured the pool space? The double gyms in the Phillips Community Center are for indoor soccer.
    The only people who have wanted to make this solely a “teen space” are the MPRB staff and commissioners who conducted their neighborhood input over the December holiday season… in park buildings – which being underutilized- produced a limited sampling of what people living in these four Phillips neighborhoods want.
    As for their opening of Youth Club in the building once the Boys and Girls Club left, the opening rap/hip-hop music was sexist and anti-female. Several of the well-known words denigrating girls and women were heard all over the parking lot via the music speakers.
    Finally where is the mentoring of youth by elders in the community with the MPRB plans for this building? Youth are not separate from our generations nor are our elders separate from youth.
    [This e-mail has been abridged to accommodate space in paper see alleynews.org for full text.]

  3. Shirley Heyer says:

    Phillips Community Parks Initiative Since 2008
    OPEN LETTER [answering a neighbor’s questions the day after the Mar. 17th “Connecting the Dots” Meeting.]
    Phillips Community Parks Initiative Since 2008
    OPEN LETTER [answering a neighbor’s questions the day after the Mar. 17th “Connecting the Dots” Meeting.]
    By Shirley Heyer
    I am the Midtown Phillips Neighborhood Association, Inc. (MPNAI) rep to the Phillips Community Parks Initiative, started about two years ago by the four neighborhoods – after several reps from Ventura Village and I from MPNAI met with Supt. Gurban about the Phillips Community Center and what would happen after the Boys and Girls Club vacated it. Supt. Gurban said his first option was to release a Request for Proposals and sell the building to a private party for warehouse storage or some other privately owned use, because the MPRB is short of funds and the Phillips Community Center was underutilized.
    The Phillips Community Parks Initiative was organized shortly after that with reps from each of the four recognized neighborhood organizations (East Phillips Improvement Coalition, MPNAI, Ventura Village and Phillips West) participating. Waite House joined with us immediately because they lease their current site, at 25th and 13th Ave. S., from the MPRB and are looking for additional space. Hope Community had, at that time, recently completed its own U of M CURA study concerning its residents’ interests and the use of Peavey Park. They joined with us after more conversation
    Al Bangora, director of Stewart Park, is director of the MPRB Phillips Community Service Area (coordinating activities among all five MPRB properties in the four neighborhoods). And our neighborhoods are represented by Park Commissioners Scott Vreeland and Annie Young on the MPRB.
    When the Boys and Girls Club left the Phillips Community Center, the MPRB moved Club Youthline into it on a temporary basis and then last fall was considering warehousing the building, because the roof was leaking so badly and it needed other repairs.
    The Phillips Community Parks Initiative was instrumental in encouraging the MPRB to look at another approach and they reached the decision to pursue immediate rehab stabilizing the building, instead of warehousing it, which over the winter could have caused irreparable damage because of the leaking roof. None of us thought the building could make it through the winter without severe damage and then a request for demo this spring.
    The Initiative also early sought a CURA grant from the U of M’s Humphrey Institute graduate study program to specifically look at the Phillips Community Center and the issues and possibilities for it. This document was completed last fall. MPNAI managed the contract with the U of M. We will be distributing the study shortly, so it can be used as a basis for further research and direction. It is available on CD, via email, in a 25-minute power point, or on paper.
    The Connecting the Dots meeting last night [March 17th] was the Initiative’s next step (our third). Saving the building was the first. Obtaining the CURA grant and widening our Initiative Group was the second. Bob Albee, Initiative member from Ventura Village, arranged and coordinated last night’s meeting. We take turns based on everyone’s interests and time demands. Ventura Village also receives preference because the building is located within their neighborhood. The Phillips Community Parks Initiative is also continuing to widen its membership. I’m glad that you mentioned this morning that Hope Academy has some interest in gym space. Ongoing discussions will continue.
    The immediate concern now, however, is writing letters to the MPRB commissioners to stop their intent to fill the pool with something, such as cement, eventually leading to its becoming just indoor play space. In particular, it is important that people send letters to our own two commissioners who oppose keeping the pool open.
    The process of what to do with the pool – see the emails I just forwarded to you. Carol Pass from the East Phillips Improvement Coalition wrote one. Jim Graham of Ventura Village wrote another. Both are designated participants in the Initiative for their neighborhoods. Crystal Trutnau, executive director of Phillips West, is another. Francisco Sergovia, executive director at Waite House, represents Waite House along with Pillsbury United’s President (Waite House is part of Pillsbury United’s organization). Chaka Mkail of Hope Community – although not known to us at the time – was doing Hope Community’s own study with CURA while we were doing ours. They concentrated on Peavey Park and, as we did, long term management and policies of the MPRB towards inner city facilities. Hope Community gave an introductory presentation to some park board members and a few months later to the Initiative. They are active participants in what is happening with MPRB facilities here.
    Finally, the Phillips Community Parks Initiative is a voluntarily coordinated collaborative held together by our common interests: We may have differences, many opinions and disagreements from time to time, but we all have one overall goal and vision – saving the five MPRB facilities within our four neighborhoods in a manner which promotes long-term financial and management stability and maximum utilization of coordinated space through widely utilized, fair and and non-discriminatory policies including all the many ethnic and cultural groups representing the people living in all four neighborhoods.
    Sincerely, Shirley Heyer, MPNAI rep to the Phillips Community Parks Initiative, Midtown Phillips Resident

  4. By Annie Young says:

    Comm. Young’s Defense of Burying Pool, Inadequate Design, and Lack of Transparency:
    By Annie Young
    Tuesday, March 23, 2010, 11:41 PM
    Thank you all for your comments and concerns regarding the use of the Phillips Community Center (also known as the Phillips Pool and Gym).
    The problems at PCC are complex. For starters…
    1. The Boys and Girls Club operated the pool not the MPRB.
    The MPRB has never operated the indoor pool.  The pool was operated by the Boys and Girls Club when they occupied this site.  If a pool is in operation it requires a different approach to the HVAC equipment and roofing materials that are designed and ready to be installed.  The HVAC equipment that was designed, bid, and will be installed in the building did not take into account an indoor pool operational in the facility.
    2.  If we were going to operate the pool, here is what it would take: The capital expense, depending upon the number and type of additional features would range from $600k to over $1.5 million. In addition, there would need to be additional HVAC work done, and these cost estimates, do not include those capital and operational costs.  The estimated annual operational expense if restored to the current configuration would be $125k to $140k with annual lifeguards and other staffing, depending upon hours and use being, and additional $30k and up.
    To top things off it is not Annie’s fabulous indoor playground idea.  It is an idea proposed by planning staff for the reuse of that building. There has not been a final determination of new uses for the building but right now to just get the operating systems up to par.
    People in the neighborhood have been informed of these plans and have known that we would be getting rid of the pool. However, obviously not the “right” folks in the neighborhood heard or listened to our rehab plans.
    It has now been suggested that we wait until a Board meeting )April 7th) and stop the contractor who is ready to do the work on April 1st.  That will cost us many dollars and would get us really nowhere. If we kept the pool, a whole different type of roofing materials and a different type of HVAC would be needed rather than the one we are installing now.
    If it is the desire of the neighborhood to have a pool it might be best to build an annex south of the building that would house the pool and could be built with the right equipment and operating systems to have a pool.  This could even include solar thermal for heating the water.
    As far as any concerns about public input and process for this building it should be noted that it was a stabilization and rehab project for an existing building. This does not require using our CAC process.
    And last, but not least, is Where would we get the money, both to do a different type of rehab and to operate and maintain a pool system in the building?  We are cutting $3.4 million from our budget beginning in June and heaven only knows how much we will have to cut in 2011, but it won’t be pretty.  It is so ugly as a matter of fact that the Board will be considering closing some facilities and rearranging programming at many of our other 49 sites.  We can no longer maintain the community center system we have. This may include selling some buildings – we would keep the land underneath but have others purchase buildings for other uses. Could this happen at PCC – yes, it is possible?
    I also feel Phillips should consider itself LUCKY.  It will be finishing construction and opening a new facility in East Phillips.  It has gotten funds for improvements at Stewart Park and we still hold out to rebuild and program Peavey Park.  This is more than any other part of the City – especially the Northside that has even more needs than Phillips because it has very little to start with in comparison.
    I am sure this message will not make you all happy but at this point the MPRB will be moving forward with its current plans. We cannot afford to pay the contractor delay fees on our contract with them.  The materials are here and ready to go. Even if there was a reconsideration of the idea about cementing in the pool , it wouldn’t be for the purpose of the MPRB operating it as a public pool.
    Thank you for your input and suggestions. Annie Young – not your only option for citywide Commissioner who might also be able to help support your District Commissioner as this issue moves forward.
    An excerpt from a similar letter to Annie Young’s Mar 23rd but closing with this comment that precede’s Jim Graham’s remark about her vacation.
    Just so you all know I am leaving later today for a long awaited vacation and will be gone until April 1st. So please don’t beat up on me too bad while I am gone. For now, Annie Young Citywide Park Commissioner Vice President – MPRB

  5. Jim Graham says:

    Jim Graham Responds to Comm. Young Going to “Heart of the Matter” regarding “Social Justice” and Proposing a Win-Win Solution:
    Anne, I see no reason to sugar coat this situation. And I see no reason to not do what you know I usually do, without any regard to personal feelings – go to the heart of the matter when it comes to Social-Justice issues. So here is the truth about the matter. The Park Board should consider itself VERY, VERY lucky – NOT Phillips! Who exactly do you think went and got the State dollars for that East Phillips project. It was the Phillips people. Those dollars NEVER would have come without that effort. Who do you suppose went to bat to defend the Park Board from our own City Council and Mayor – the neighborhood people of Minneapolis, that is who! Anne, the Park Board certainly does NOT need a public relations nightmare that could happen if there were a public media fight around the total incompetence of the Park Board in managing that facility. The Park Board certainly does not need the media around the idea that they released an obligation of several million dollars for forty thousand dollars. (Speaking of which, either that Lawyer should have already been fired OR the Park Board is admitting that it KNEW what it was doing and was incompetent. It has to be one or the other.) The idea that the plans were drawn and contracts let that would destroy the resource of that Phillips Pool without involving the neighborhood representatives is simply unacceptable. I think we had an agreement to NOT do such a thing. It is dealing with subterfuge at best, and a stab in the back of Neighborhood people at worst. But until the destruction has happened, it is not beyond salvage. Even the worst mistake can be changed until it is implemented. Only fools stub their toes over and over on the same rock. What we need is a win-win situation for the Neighborhood and the Park Board. A compromise if you will. We commit to not having a public media fight about this, and you and that Park Board commit to NOT destroying OUR pool. It is about that simple. And Anne, your vacation will not stop those actions. I do not believe the Neighborhood folks will be taking a vacation from the Phillips Pool & Gym issue during that time. So if I were you, I would get Scott Vreland busy if you are going on vacation. He will also feel the heat, I can assure you and him, if our tax payers are presented with one more instance of the waste of public resources and dollars around that Pool and Gym. The two of you WERE in a management position when you allowed the situation to happen. It is up to you to lead the fight to fix the problem. You can be the heroes that fix the problem or the goats that created it. BTW. Is Morrie Glover still at Channel 9? Pat Doyle at the Star Tribune? Scott Waserman still a reporter? Sonya still at WCCO?
    Jim Graham, Ventura Village

  6. Jim Graham says:

    Jim Graham’s OPEN LETTER Response to Comm. Vreeland’s Mar 27 e-mail Response to Events and Communications of the past week regarding the Phillips Pool and Gym:
    By Jim Graham
    Thank you, Scott for your perspective. Too bad it is just misinformed, or could it be merely slanted to cover the mismanagement of this public resource of the Phillips Pool & Gym [PP&G]the last few years by the present Park Board staff.
    Please be a little more realistic, Scott. The idea of turning the PP&G over to teens to run is to ignore history. Please get real! The communit’s greatest need (as identified by residents, not pure speculation) is for programs for adults and in particular Elders -an element of the population that seems to be totally ignored by the Park Board (at least in our community).
    Scott, perhaps you are simply unaware of this Elder population and their needs. Too bad, ‘cause not only are they poorly served by the MRPB but they also vote. Wellness for Elders is already a major issue for our community. It will be even more important in the future. The MPRB should begin to be more concerned for these needs and those votes.
    The community prefers to look at Park facilities as multi-use facilities, NOT just serving one element of our community. Such a mixture of uses creates a community asset. ANY use that is only for teens is NOT viewed as a community asset by many in the community.
    Scott, you clearly have little understanding of the needs of soccer and the size of the facilities at PP&G. The pool area is much too small even if it were converted. There is a DOUBLE gym that is, and would be, the appropriate place for such soccer practice. This, of course, is the opinion of someone who has actually had soccer teams practice soccer at that facility. Perhaps you should visit the facility and talk to a couple of soccer coaches. But please do not just shoot out smoke for cover. Especially uninformed smoke it can only make one look foolish.
    Now to the the issue of destroying the “Pool” at the PP&G. In a meeting with some Park Board staff and Anne Young (I do not remember you showing up for the meeting) we were assured that NO decision would be made concerning the Pool without involving the Community leaders on the subject. Since I was one of those “leaders,” I have to assume that meant me as well as the other “leaders” in the room. I think not only making those plans, but “Contracting” for the destruction of the pool was never brought to the attention of either myself or any other community person in that room at that time. It was only discovered by what I have to believe was a slip up by a staff member. That, by the way, in MY opinion, is outrageous behavior.
    Sort of like the assurance that I would be meeting with your lawyer to discuss contract with the Boys and Girls Club, and the justification for settling what was a debt of a few million dollars for a paltry $40,000. With such management decisions it is little wonder that there might be a budget problem. I have yet to have that justification presented after at least six months.
    Perhaps Scott could tell us why that contract was not enforced. Or was it just that the MPRB lawyer preferred to leave the funds for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America to use for their executive staff to use for themselves? It was interesting to read about the exorbitant miss-use of funds by that organization. I have to admit an amount of outrage when I read that article and thought of the millions of dollars our MPRB allowed to be stolen from our own taxpayers through years of inattention to their fiduciary responsibilities, and then mismanagement when they did become aware of the way the taxpayers were being bilked.
    It is probably better to let this fight lay Scott, and just try to address doing your public duty to the voters better in the future by saving this valuable resource for our community.

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