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Freshening up the pond: SandVenture needs a facelift, and the city is seeking ideas

SandVenture Aquatic Park in Shakopee is one of the few community establishments that looks relatively the same today as it did 50 years ago. The massive chlorinated sand-bottom pond was built in Shakopee in 1969 and has since been a regional destination.

Aquatics Supervisor Katelyn Nadeau said SandVenture was first built as a safer alternative for swimming when the Minnesota River started getting more polluted. The pool looks and feels like a beach, but it’s chlorinated and lifeguarded with filtered water. The body of water alone can hold up to 2,000 people and is 1.2 acres in size (though with the capacity of the adjacent building in mind, SandVenture only allows 900 people at a time). That’s big enough to fit six tennis courts.

But despite the surrounding farmland that’s since turned into housing developments and the unforeseen growth of the city, SandVenture has, for the most part, stayed the same, and that’s in part because of its size. Instead of growing to fit the community, the community has grown to fit the pool, and now it’s caught up.

The attraction is unique, because it’s a chlorinated pond, and one of only 14 in the state. Those involved with its upkeep say it’s one of the southwest metro’s best-kept secrets. Hidden behind a cluster of pine trees and tucked into Lions Park off Adams Street, Shakopee Mayor Bill Mars said he wished more people knew about the 53-year-old community staple.

Now, after decades of maintaining the chlorinated sand-bottom pond and adding small amenities such as slides and a diving board, the city is diving deeper, aiming at ways to better maintain, renovate and grow its existing footprint.

This month, the city is seeking resident feedback for ideas to turn the sand-bottom pond into an aquatic park that generates more revenue and can attract more visitors from across the community and region.

The planning comes after a sweeping parks and recreation master plan completed in 2019, which outlines ideas for SandVenture’s future. While Shakopee Senior Planner PeggySue Imihy said the master plan is a guiding document for the future of Lions Park, the specifics of SandVenture improvements will be determined by the public input received.

“The planning we’re doing is a direct result of taking that plan one step further, and diving deeper into the community,” Imihy said.

In 2008 and 2009, SandVenture underwent a renovation in which a new slide and bath house were added. But other than pouring money back into the facility for necessary repairs, no major amenities have been added to SandVenture since then.

“Now we’re saying, what can we do to make the next 50 years even greater? What do they want?”

Options for improvement

Staff presented the council with two options to add upgrades to the aquatic park to potentially boost revenue and decrease SandVenture’s burden on taxpayers over the long-term at a meeting last year.

One option was to pursue the outline in the Parks and Recreation Master Plan, which includes adding a restaurant, pool cabanas and a sand volleyball court.

The other option was to completely raze and reconstruct the aquatic park, adding water slides and other attractions, which would cost $11 million. Council anonymously ruled out that option. Kerski said the “payback on this is a very long time.”

The Parks and Recreation Master plan lays out ideas for SandVenture’s future improvements, which include a new water slide, rentable cabanas and converting the “boathouse” into a full-service food venue.

“Adults can enjoy a drink on the restaurant patio, enjoy a leisurely sand volleyball game… or have a meal with their family while visiting Lions Park, providing a full day experience for users,” the master plan states. “The restaurant could operate year round, servicing people during hockey games, broomball games, disc golf tournaments, pickleball gatherings…”

In an interview with the Valley News Feb. 2, Mars said he’d like to see future SandVenture improvements to include adding amenities instead of changing its footprint or character.

“I live about three blocks away from that park, and it does get used, but I just want more out of a pool,” Mars said. “There’s a lot of communities that have outdoor pools that get more use because of some of the features. I’m looking forward to seeing what the residents’ desires are, and what the consultants come up with.”

Revenue challenges

Though the chlorinated sand-bottom pond has been a popular summer destination for Shakopee families, Shakopee Parks and Recreation Director Jay Tobin said last year, it’s not a revenue-generator for the city. In the past 10 years, the city has paid an average of $227,000 annually in necessary expenses to keep SandVenture up and running — money that comes from the city’s operating levy.

That’s not an anomaly for city-owned aquatic parks. Most city-owned outdoor pools lose money each year, and the net cost is picked up by operating levies, Imihy said.

“Let’s be honest, the Minnesota climate isn’t conducive to (outdoor) pools,” Nadeau said. “It’s an asset to our community and it’s beloved by our community, and we want to put this money into it to keep it around, make it awesome and draw more people to it.”

In 2019, it cost $333,700 to keep the park up and running, and the city only brought in $183,600 from selling memberships, lessons and concessions. That means, on average, each household in Shakopee paid about $7 in property taxes to keep the pool going that year.

Mars said a “reasonable” price tag for the improvements will be determined by the community’s tolerance.

“But maybe if we did it right, a couple million dollars,” Mars said. “Price hasn’t really been talked about, but I think $7 or $8 million would be out of the question for me.”

Mars said some of the updates he’d like to see would be creating a year-round use for the site, which could include expanding the building so it’s able to be rented out year round, and adding enhancements that would draw more people in.

“We’re looking for something that can enhance the pool, maybe off to the side, or in conjunction with the pool, rather than something that’s a complete rebuild,” Mars said. “It’s even been brought up that we could bring ice skating back to the pool. In the 60s, that was a thing.”

But there’s a problem: the pool is getting old, and before more money can be generated from it, more money needs to be put in, city staff said.

Deferred maintenance

The Shakopee City Council gave consensus to update fixtures at the 50-year-old SandVenture Aquatic Park at a business meeting in July 2020, including the $40,000 installation of a safer chlorine system and $740,000 worth of infrastructure updates.

The funding for the maintenance repairs will come from “rent” paid on the facility for the purposes of deferred maintenance — in other words, there are funds that have been set aside each year for the deferred maintenance of that site. There’s approximately $1.4 million that has accrued in “rents” since 2008 that will be available to put back into SandVenture, according to Imihy.

“So along with some critical maintenance items, we thought this was a good time to gauge the public interest,” Imihy said in an interview Feb. 2.

So far, residents have requested amenities ranging from more umbrellas to a lazy river to extended park hours. Anyone can enter in their thoughts, ideas or suggestions for the future of SandVenture at shakopee.mysocialpinpoint.com/lions-park through the end of February.

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Vaccines: Local efforts continue, state warns of scams

Scott County’s mass vaccination efforts continued with second doses for local first responders this week as health officials wait anxiously for allocations from the federal government to ramp up.

Scott County Public Health Director Lisa Brodsky provided an update to county commissioners during the Feb. 2 meeting regarding the local vaccine roll-out.

As of Jan. 29, 3,600 Moderna doses have been received by Scott County Public Health, and the county is keeping pace with state guidelines for how quickly doses should be administered upon their arrival.

However, the current timeline is challenging, Brodsky said.

The county health department is told how many vaccines they’ll be receiving the following week on Friday afternoons, and shipments typically arrive on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Brodsky said they’re hesitant to schedule clinics before having the vaccines on-hand, so they need to act quickly once doses are received.

Last Friday, they opened a 600-person clinic for residents aged 65 and over. Appointments filled within two hours and the waitlist grew three times as long.

State health officials said this week it could be several months before all eligible seniors have the opportunity to be vaccinated, but a 5% increase to the state’s allocation — in addition to the recently-announced 16% increase — is expected shortly.

Last week’s local allocation was 1,100 doses, according to Brodsky, and 900 doses were available this week.

In addition to the vaccine, the shipments to local health departments include supplies such as alcohol pads, cotton balls and needles.

Brodsky said these items are especially important as the county faces shortages of critical supplies, such as syringes.

Mass vaccination clinic sites in Shakopee and New Prague are able to administer roughly 600-800 doses to appointment-holders during a four-hour window, according to Brodsky.

The existing sites have capacity to more than triple their operations when allocations increase.

The county health department reports administering vaccines at nearly 70 different locations to over 1,000 health care workers, 368 individuals in group homes and 238 emergency medical services providers to date.

This week’s vaccination clinics included second-doses for local first responders, and plans are being developed to begin vaccinating education and childcare workers.

As of data collected through Feb. 1, 9,780 Scott County residents have begun or completed the vaccine series, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

Statewide, at least one vaccine dose has been administered to roughly 459,000 Minnesotans.

It’s unclear at this time how anticipated roll-out of the vaccine produced by Johnson & Johnson will impact local vaccine operations — the vaccine is not yet approved for use.

Brodsky said the county currently plans to only offer the Moderna shot, and doesn’t have the cold-storage capacity to deal with the Pfizer vaccine.

As of Feb. 3, 103 Scott County residents have died of COVID-19, according to MDH. The death toll stands at 39 in Carver County and 367 in Dakota County.

Statewide, more than 6,230 COVID-19 related deaths have been recorded.

State warns of scams

Scammers might be looking to take advantage of the vaccine shortage, state health officials warned Monday.

Kris Ehresmann, the state’s director of infectious disease epidemiology, said any caller seeking credit card, bank account or social security information in regards to the vaccine process is a scammer.

“The vaccine is free for everyone through appropriate vaccination clinics,” Ehresmann said, warning there is no method to pay to join a waitlist of accelerate your eligibility.

Shakopee City Council approved a nature-inspired concept design for the park which would include beach access, accessible canoe and kayak launches and informal seating areas such as a hammock grove.