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Phillips Aquatics Center Update

pool-sketchBY DENNY BENNETT

Many of you, like me, had hoped, based on the published timeline, to be donning hardhats any day now for the groundbreaking of the new Phillips Aquatics Center. If you’ve been holding your breath, you can exhale now. The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) is not quite there yet.

The New, Real Timeline

Final plans should be complete soon, with few changes and much care given to all of the feedback gathered from the public. By early September, the project will be out to bid. Once all bids are in, a contractor will be selected and approved by the MPRB. To stay in compliance with our state bond money, construction must be underway before December 31, 2016!

The Phillips Aquatics Center should be complete before the end of 2017.

The MPRB has assured me that this timeline will be met. Given that both private and public funds are contingent on this, I am confident that they will meet this new schedule.

On March 29, Rep. Karen Clark introduced HB 3684, extending the deadline on the $1,750,000 aforementioned state bond money until December 31, 2018. This was not at the request or knowledge of either MPRB or Minneapolis Swims, but probably just Rep. Clark playing it safe. Rep. Clark was not available to comment on this.

The Pool is Making Waves

It was just over nine months ago that the Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) Board, with the blessing of Interim Superintendent Michael Goar, not only voted to re-affirm its commitment to contribute annual operating dollars for a 5-year period, but also announced that they would make a $1,750,000 capital contribution to the MPRB to be used toward the construction of the Phillips Aquatics Center. Their only request was to work together to establish a memorandum of understanding (MOU), outlining how this partnership would work.

Nine months later, a four-page document has emerged! https://goo.gl/kdZVfi

As you might expect, the MOU calls on the MPRB to come up with a specific plan for providing swim lessons at the Phillips Aquatics Center:

By October 31, 2017 the MPRB will present plans for the establishment of a “City Swims” program with multiple partners to promote swimming lessons and classes led by professional staff and certified lifeguards for all Minneapolis children. MPS agrees to actively participate in the planning and implementation of the initiative through access to MPS swimming pool facilities, as well as academic, athletics and operations staff leadership. Both organizations mutually recognize and share responsibility for financial development and success of the “City Swims” program. The “City Swims” initiative will be operational by February 15, 2018 contingent on the opening of the planned “Phillips Aquatic Center.”

What is most interesting, however, is the scope of collaboration this MOU encompasses, calling for the formation of a volunteer citywide advisory group called “Minneapolis Youth Sports Association” (MYSA). MYSA will exist under the equally shared authority of MPS and MPRB, and will advise them on providing opportunities for youth in the City of Minneapolis to participate in athletic programs of all types. The group will be led by the MPS director of athletics and the MPRB’s assistant superintendent of recreation.

The plan is then to have MYSA oversee 17 different sport-specific “commissions” made up of MPS & MPRB staff, students, coaches and parents from the community.

Dr. Stephen Flisk, Deputy Chief of Schools, and Trent Tucker, Director of Athletics, presented the MOU to the MPS Board of Education at its regular meeting on April 12. A copy of the presentation is available at https://goo.gl/XnVuQP. A motion to adapt the MOU was introduced, and will be voted on at the next board meeting. A copy of the motion can be seen at https://goo.gl/va4ZCA

So far, the MPRB has not addressed the proposed MOU at the board level.

For anyone currently involved in youth sports, the thought of MPS and MPRB working as one — in terms of field and facility scheduling, thinking proactively about your specific sport, and making sure that resources are fairly and equitably distributed — is a dream. It seems the ripples from our pool are starting to make some interesting waves!

Kudos for Minneapolis Swims & the Phillips Aquatics Center

In February of this year, Minnesota Commissioner of Education, Brenda Cassellius, Ed. D., delivered a report titled, “Existing Resources and Best Practices Available for Swimming Instruction in Minnesota Public Schools”.

To stay in compliance with the Laws of Minnesota 2015, chapter 3, article 2, section 66(b), the commissioner of Education “must establish a work group of interested stakeholders, including the commissioner or commissioner’s designee, the commissioner of Health or the commissioner’s designee, and representatives of K-12 physical education teachers, K-12 school administrators, the Minnesota School Board Association, nonprofit fitness and recreational organizations, public parks and recreation departments, and other stakeholders, including community members underserved and disproportionately impacted by the current distribution of swimming resources, interested in swimming instruction and activities identified by the commissioner of education, to determine and report to the education committees of the legislature by February 1, 2016, on the curriculum, resources, personnel, and other costs needed to make swimming instruction available in all Minnesota public schools for children beginning at an early age. The work group must consider the substance of the report under paragraph (a) in preparing its report.”

A copy of the report can be found here http://goo.gl/NeESXW

Their conclusion is that while it may be cost-prohibitive to build pools for every district in the state, collaborative partnerships between the schools and community organizations should be encouraged and incented, and that swimming instruction should be expanded to include drowning prevention as a way to reach more children.

Bob Crunstedt is Executive Director for Minnesota Swimming, the governing body of most non-high school competitive swim events, and was a member of the work group. He had this to say about the Phillips Aquatics Center and Minneapolis Swims:

As a member of the swimming instruction work group gathered by the Minnesota Department of Education, the Phillips Aquatics Center is a terrific example of a partnership that will help bring swimming instruction to children in Minnesota schools. As I see it, based on our research and recommendations to the State, Minneapolis Swims, a 501(c)3, has put together a capital collaboration made up of State, County, School, Park, Foundation and Individual donations to open a facility to be run and owned by the Parks. It will be utilized by the schools, located in the center of a community with a great need for outreach, and designed to be a learn-to-swim facility with 10 lanes. Moreover, not just for school children but all members of the community as well.”

Denny Bennett is President of Minneapolis swims

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