In the Swim of Things

The citizens of Little Falls need a public swimming pool, or do they?

A small article in the Little Falls Daily Transcript on June 7, 1932 announced the closing of the municipal bathing beach by the city health officer, Dr. L. M. Roberts. The beach was located on the Mississippi River and sewage drifting down from Camp Ripley was making the water unsafe for swimming. This news item sparked a decades-long tussle between citizens who wanted a public pool and those who thought the costs far outweighed the benefits and use a pool would generate.

The first recommendation for a public pool came in July 1935 from Dr. L. M. Roberts after a “positive refusal of the state board of health to approve the river for bathing.” (LFDT – July 2, 1935) By August of that year, the city water board went forward with plans to approach the Works Progress Administration for $280,000 to build a City Recreation Center that was to include a water softening plant. With the water softening plant, they were thinking practically, but that practicality would come back to haunt the swimming pool project.

The Recreation Center was to include, “A 100 by 75-foot swimming pool of granite construction and surrounded by granite walls; bath houses; two tennis courts; volleyball court; horseshoe court; two sunken baseball diamonds to be flooded for winter skating; landscaping with 350 trees; graded and beautified up to the river’s bank. The treating plant would be 110 by 35 feet, single story structure of granite.” (LFDT – August 6, 1935) The city’s expenses were expected to run no more than $20,000 for the project and it would put approximately 300 men to work for a year. It sounded like a great project and the price was right. The federal Works Progress Administration approved the funding in September 1935 and work was started.

A mere seven months later, practicality prevailed. In April 1936, voters decided that, instead of a public pool, the city needed to extend the water mains and the pool never materialized.

The question of a public pool was once again raised a few years later. During a public hearing held January 15, 1940, “The discussion veered, as it always does, to the river, where many of today’s parents learned to swim ‘and lived to tell about it.’ They pooh-poohed the state department of health for condemning the river and the general opinion was that Little Falls might as well follow its downriver neighbor, St. Cloud, in developing and supervising a portion of the Mississippi and ignore the state department.

“The risk run in that course is that the city might be liable in case of an epidemic. However, it was pointed out, the city is liable for a lot of things and must take some chances.” (LFDT – January 16, 1940) The pool decision remained unmade.

In 1953, the Mississippi River beach was closed after nine-year-old John Mrozek drowned. In 1955, a compromise was made between the unsafe and unsanitary river beach and the costly construction of a public pool. The city of Little Falls opened a municipal beach at Green Prairie Fish Lake. This solution for public swimming worked for a number of years until city health officer, Dr. C. J. Dillenburg, decided that the beach needed to be closed in 1963 due to hazardous conditions. (LFDT – October 2, 1962)

This decision resparked the municipal swimming pool debate. Prior to the scheduled beach closing, an advisory vote was taken from the voting public on whether to issue $200,000 in bonds for the project. By a 100-vote margin, the public approved of funding a swimming pool. A citizen’s group called the Little Falls Swimming Pool Corporation (LFSPC) was formed. The founding officers were Don Norgren, President; Harold Hammerbeck, Vice President of engineering; N. B. Norwood, Vice President of fundraising; H.M. Braggans, Vice President of legal issues; Willard Vondrashek, Secretary; and Al Tillman, Treasurer.

The LFSPC wanted to raise money to construct a municipal pool at the North End Playground. The pool was estimated to cost $100,000 and the group’s goal was to raise $20,000 in donations and take out an $80,000 loan from the Small Business Administration for the balance. The LFSPC had an ambitious timeline. The organization was formed in October 1964 and its members wanted to have the pool open to the public by June 12, 1965.

The Pool Corporation’s plans were swimming smoothly along, with the site leased, the engineering plans complete, and $21,310 in contributions raised, when a meeting with the Small Business Administration in March 1965 halted the group’s progress. Concerns over the ability to repay an $80,000 loan caused the LFSPC to defer action with the Small Business Administration. The group decided to look elsewhere for funding and ended up asking the city council to back the project. Support was not forthcoming, so, in February 1966, the LFSPC dissolved and all donations were refunded.

In 1972, with the remodeling of school buildings in Little Falls, constructing a pool was back on the community’s agenda. The plan was to add a pool onto what is now the Little Falls Community Middle School. (In 1972, this building was serving as the high school.) A bond issue vote was held separate from one that would cover the costs of remodeling schools and building a new high school. The bond for the new high school and remodeling costs passed, but the pool bond was voted down by seventy-two votes. It was the first time in the history of Morrison County that a school district bond issue was defeated. Students were not happy. Some were quoted as saying, “The lack of a swimming pool is everybody’s big gripe, it really is.” (LFDT, December 15, 1972)

A new bond issue election concerning a community swimming pool was scheduled for July 10, 1973. This time, it passed by 806 votes. Finally, there would be a pool! Construction began immediately and, with just a few delays (the tile didn’t arrive on time), the pool opened to the public on February 2, 1975.

The story doesn’t end there. At the present time, most of this pool’s open time is devoted to student use. People are investigating the possibility of a new pool through the Little Falls Community Partnership. The citizens of Little Falls need a public swimming pool. . . .

by Mary Warner
Copyright 2001, Morrison County Historical Society

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