DeKalb Park District officials say time is now to fix Hopkins Pool

May 8, 2019

DeKALB – With less than three weeks until swimmers can dive into Hopkins Pool for the season, DeKalb Park District officials have renewed interest in replacing the almost 50-year-old pool.

As part of a new five-year strategic plan, district leaders say they hope to develop a plan for the pool’s future by the end of this year. The goal: either repair or replace the pool without charging the public more to do it.

Park officials have contemplated ways to update or upgrade the pool for years, but results of a recent survey make clear now is the time to address it, Amy Doll, park district executive director, said.

“There was a community survey that was done as part of the strategic planning process,” Doll said at Hopkins Pool Wednesday. “It really helped provide the district with the data that says this is important to our community.”

The current iteration of the pool at Hopkins Park opened in June 1975, after voters in April 1974 agreed to a tax-increase referendum that raised $520,000. Now 44 years old, it is showing its age, and residents are noticing.

The 2018 survey conducted by the park district received a 12% response rate, with 401 responses of 3,200 were delivered by mail. Survey results show Hopkins Pool received the highest level of dissatisfaction, even though it’s the fourth most-used district facility, behind Hopkins Park Playground, the Elwood Mansion, and Hopkins Park Bandshell.

″[The pool is] an aged facility,” Doll said. “I think that comes with two different concerns the community has: it’s just difficult to maintain, and for an outdoor pool in Northern Illinois, it’s outlived its life expectancy. And then when you look at more modern pool designs, this pool is missing some of those features.”

Phil Young, president of the park board, said the pool’s age has caused infrastructure problems, too.

“There was a problem last year with leaking going on,” Young said. “The water just leaks out at a higher rate than it should. And we have chlorine gas, which is more of a safety issue than the new kinds of chlorine chemicals we put in the pool.”

The Olympic-sized lap pool was built in the 1970s, but other features, including a children’s splash pad and slides, were added more than 20 years ago, Doll said.

Residents may want a new pool, but paying for it has been another matter. A decade ago, a $15 million referendum that sought to build a new water park facility was rejected,Young said. Around 2013, a pool committee found it would cost about $4 million to renovate the facility, while replacement could cost $6 million.

“The public has spoken,” Young said. “They don’t want taxes raised, the board is not interested in another referendum. We want to build a new one or renovate within the means of the money we can budget over a 15- to 20-year bond.”

According to district’s 2018 pool report, last year’s summer pass sales were up 6.5% over 2017, with 1,341 season passes sold to residents, and 176 sold to others. Overall pool attendance also increased in 2018 by 12% over 2017. The district sold 16,213 daily admission passes in 2018.

Doll said while attendance figures are weather-dependent, overall pool use has remained steady in the past five years, helping to underscore the necessity of renovating the pool.

Conversations relating to the possibility of a joint DeKalb-Sycamore pool have stalled, Doll said.

In 2013, former DeKalb Park Board commissioner Per Faivre began a conversation with Sycamore park officials about having a joint pool instead of one in each city, partly due to the age of each. The Sycamore Park District’s swimming pool opened in June 1984 and is now 35 years old.

In 2015, almost half of DeKalb’s residents stated in a survey they didn’t want to share their pool with Sycamore, however.

“There is not conversation happening right now,” Doll said in response to whether the joint pool idea was still on the table. “But at this point I think everyone’s still kind of open to what makes sense for our community as a whole.”

Young said the current board is very interested in determining a plan of action by the end of 2019, and will look into creating another pool committee researching pool usage trends and designs, reviewing options for a finance project, and reaching back out to the public for input.

“The time is now to address the pool once and for all,” he said. “Looking at everything else we have now on the table, one of the primary things we need to do right now is get a new pool built.”