Alderwoman Susan Kott (from left), Mayor Jeannie Hefty and Pool Board member Jeanne Otter share a laugh during the groundbreaking ceremony for the city’s new aquatic center on Tuesday. Officials plan for the project to be finished for the 2018 season. (Photo by Mike Ramczyk)

Burlington begins work on new aquatic center

By Mike Ramczyk

Staff Writer

Gold shovels jammed into a pile of dirt and rocks, with roughly 15 people standing in a circle, cordially introducing each other, doesn’t exactly qualify as ground-breaking news.

But that seemingly simple, uneventful action represents ramifications for future generations of an entire community, and the possibilities are endless, according to local officials.

On Sept. 5, a City of Burlington staple for the past 52 years, the Burlington Community Pool, hosted a groundbreaking for a new, $5-plus million state-of-the-art aquatic center. The project, which is expected to be ready for swimming season next summer, will include the destruction of the existing facilities, including the building, pools, parking lot, basketball and volleyball courts.

The only thing that will remain at the historic site is the tennis court.

Representatives of the Burlington Community Pool Board, City Council, Scherrer Construction and Ayres and Associates were on hand, clad in hard hats and vests, to dig some dirt and kick off demolition that should be complete by the end of the week.

Lead designer Blake Theisen, of the Madison-based Ayres, has a 14-year history with the city of Burlington, including work on park projects such as the Riverwalk, Wehmhoff-Jucker and Riverside parks.

Theisen says he’s happy to be a part of a big-scale community project.

“A year and a half ago, we came on board, and it’s been a long-term vision of this community,” he said. “It’s been a very collaborative process, especially with the Pool Board. We ended up with a very nice, specialty design.”


Mayor is thrilled

Burlington Mayor Jeannie Hefty joined the group Tuesday and shared laughs and hugs, as the groundbreaking group rejoiced after the photo shoot.

“Burlington can grow through this, and we might have some growing pains, but I’m excited, I really am,” Hefty said. “It’s been a long process. One of my goals was to make this a place young families will come here to live.

“There’s been so many families that have supported this that swam here as children.”

Theisen said some trees would be removed Tuesday, and by the end of the week, the existing pool and building would be gone.

“We infused some current trends, and everyone came to the table with different things,” Theisen added. “The zero-depth entry is a key feature, it’s good for kids and accessibility. We have a unique slide, something that Elkhorn does not have. That was a benchmark.”

“We have an elevation structure, which is basically a playground in the water. That is something new that isn’t anywhere around here.”

While Elkhorn upgraded its facility behind millions of dollars, and features zero-depth entry and two slides, Theisen assures the community that the new aquatic center will be up to par with other facilities in the region – and it’s a popular time for pool renovation.

Hefty said she consulted with Elkhorn’s pool director, and Burlington officials also visited for some perspective. Hefty said a list of area pools was provided in the process, and Elkhorn officials said they wished they would have made it bigger.

According to Hefty, the new aquatic center will have more surface area than the current facility in Elkhorn.

“We want to have the building, pool and concrete done by winter, and all the vertical toys and flashy stuff will be done by spring,” Theisen said.

Overall, Theisen is excited about what the future holds for Burlington.

“Personally, I couldn’t be more thrilled to be involved,” Theisen said. “I have a long history with the city, and to be engaged is fun. I’ve enjoyed working with the Pool Board and City Council and (City Administrator) Carina (Walters). We’ve very, very excited, and I think it’s going to make a big impact on the City of Burlington.”


City extends contract

On Tuesday the Common Council approved a second-phase contract with Ayres for consulting during the pool construction, which will be overseen by Scherrer Construction. The contract, in the amount of $15,000, will cover the cost of Ayres attending construction meetings, assisting the city with billing for the project and some other miscellaneous services, according to Walters.

“It’s an extra set of eyes on the project,” she said.

For Hefty, whose now-adult kids swam at the former community pool, the new aquatic center is more than just a facility.

Unlike many other municipal pools, Burlington’s will be operated by a volunteer board at no anticipated ongoing expense to taxpayers.

“We have a council that is looking at the future, and they want to see things happen in Burlington,” she said. “The Pool Board will be running the new place, and they were a key partner. The city is paying for the pool and buildings, but the Pool Board will be running it. You don’t see that.”

“This is historic. People who weren’t sure this is what we should be doing will be surprised what this will bring to Burlington.”

Nearly 70 percent of voters in the November 2016 election favored the city spending up to $5.4 million on the new pool.