Iowa City City Council requests additional planning for City Park Pool, facility renovations

Following the controversy surrounding the plan’s implied impact on local pool facilities, the council voted to support the plan on Tuesday, clearing any misinformation about finalized changes.


Mark Fortunato

Community member holds a sign in support of the preservation of City Park Pool at City Council on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022. The council heard concerns from community members over proposed reforms to the pool at the Robert A. Lee Community Recreation Center.

Sydney Libert, News Reporter

Immediate renovations to Iowa City facilities, such as City Park Pool, were paused on Tuesday to allow for more planning following an Iowa City City Council vote. 

Council approved the 2022 Iowa City Recreation Facilities and Programs Master Plan at Tuesday’s formal meeting in an effort to address community needs and support local recreational services.

The plan proposes to enhance recreational programming, develop the Eastside Sports Complex, and update facilities like the Mercer Park Aquatic Center, Scanlon Gym, and various athletic fields, within a ten-year period. 

Among other design concepts, the plan offers to implement a walking track, a designated fitness/wellness space, and a warm water therapy pool to the Mercer Park Aquatic Center and Scanlon Gym, along with creating multipurpose rooms across recreation facilities. Other considered changes involve improvements to park baseball diamonds and a refurbishment of Mercer Park’s pickleball court.

Most notably, the plan includes renovation concepts for the City Park Pool and the Robert A. Lee Recreation Center’s pool, which has sparked negative feedback from the Iowa City community. 

On Monday, the Iowa City Historic Preservation Committee released a memorandum encouraging the council to explore other methods to renovate the City Park Pool, one of Iowa City’s historic pools located at 200 Park Road, which is over 73 years old.

The schematic for the City Park pool redesign includes adding a zero-depth-entry section and an integrated ramp along lap lanes to provide equitable pool access and updating restroom and shower areas to be gender-neutral, among other ideas to promote inclusion. 

Additionally, the redesign also once included reducing the number of swimming lanes, but after public feedback, the master plan creators acknowledged the idea is no longer a consideration. According to the City of Iowa City’s website, the request for a lazy river will also not be in the plan “due to concerns about space and additional staffing needed to operate this type of amenity”.

The council voted 4-2 in favor of passing the plan, emphasizing that the proposal is a general concept rather than a set design for changes to facilities.

Councilor John Thomas advocated deferring the decision until more details were confirmed for the process, stating he felt the plan did not have a chance to complete the planning process.

“My hope with the master plan would be that when we adopt it that we have an understanding that it has the full support of the community. I’m not sensing that right now,” Thomas said at the meeting.

Councilor Pauline Taylor agreed with Thomas’ viewpoint, adding she doesn’t know how the council can vote on a plan that they don’t have all the details on. 

For Councilor Shawn Harmsen, the plan is a way to direct community recreation staff’s attention to priorities rather than set any finalized plans.

“City Park Pool has this historic concrete, it’s leaking … if we don’t plan ahead and start doing this long-term multiyear planning to get to these details, we can end up in a situation where we’re closing for longer than just a construction season … nobody wants that,” Harmsen said in the meeting as the council considered the plan after public comment.

At-Large Councilor Laura Bergus added the master plan serves to build community with those who may not be regular visitors of the pool because of current limitations regarding accessibility.

“We are not voting on the layout of City Park Pool,” Bergus said. “We are not voting to close the Robert A. Lee pool. We are not voting that there should be limitations on any of our aquatics. In fact, what I see when I read the entirety of this plan, is a vision to make sure every kid in our community can swim, a vision to enhance our facilities.”

Mayor Pro Tem Megan Alter also expressed approval for the plan and its commitment to equity.

“We need to make sure that whatever we put into City Park Pool, Robert A. Lee, Mercer, that it is more accessible and more welcoming, even that it has been for us because we are a growing city … with many different types of cultural backgrounds, experiences,” Alter said. “The world looks very different now than it did when City Park Pool [was created].” 

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