In 2023, a year when the thermometer hit 90 degrees three days after Easter, when temperatures topped 80 degrees more than 70 times, when daytime highs were on pace to reach 90 and above 13 times, Mankatoans were without their municipal swimming pool.
But city officials said the Tourtellotte Park pool is on pace to be back better than ever just after Memorial Day in 2024, and they believe it will be worth the wait.
“It’ll provide a wide opportunity for a lot of different users,” Assistant City Engineer Michael McCarty said of the $8.49 million renovation and expansion of the pool complex.
Coupled with a doubling of the pickleball courts and a new playground to be added in the spring, the combined improvements to Tourtellotte Park will top $9.4 million.
The work began in October on the pool project, shutting down the facility for the entire swim season.
In the planning stages for a decade and on many residents’ wish list going back to the 1990s, the improvements will not only refurbish the existing Olympic-sized swimming pool and diving well and modernize the mechanical systems, they will also add several new features.
For people with mobility challenges and parents of toddlers, a new “family play pool” might be the favorite addition. Replacing the old wading pool just east of the main pool, it will offer a zero-depth entry from the pool deck and will very gradually deepen to three feet. At 45 feet wide and 64 feet long, the pool will offer several squirty aquatic play features targeted at the youngest swimmers.
For more adventurous kids of all ages, a 21-foot-high water slide featuring three 360-degree turns stretching over 151 feet will drop into a plunge pool connected to the play pool.
A new mechanical building that’s beginning to rise on the main pool’s north side will house modern pumps and chemical systems to replace the aging gear in the Tourtellotte Park Bathhouse.
That stone bathhouse — constructed during the Great Depression by the Works Progress Administration — is receiving some restoration work on its exterior, including a rejuvenated copper cupola and new shingles. The exterior work is carefully maintaining the building’s historic integrity and its status on the National Register of Historic Places.
Inside the building, though, big changes are in store. With the mechanical systems being moved to the new building, the bathhouse has been gutted in preparation for a complete makeover. Users next year will find more spacious bathrooms and changing rooms — including private family facilities — along with a modern ventilation system, better accessibility and new windows and doors.
“A lot of the interior work in both the buildings is scheduled to occur over the winter,” McCarty said of the addition of new fixtures and the finishing work in the bathhouse and the installation of pumps and other equipment in the mechanical building.
In the remaining weeks of above-freezing weather, the major goal will be completing the pool deck and other concrete work. If that is not accomplished, the contractor could struggle to get the pool completed on schedule if wintery weather extends past March.
“They would have time if we had a decent spring,” McCarty said. “… But weather is getting more and more confusing.”
Barring any extremely unfavorable conditions, the project appears to be on track for Tourtellotte’s traditional first splash to occur just after Memorial Day.
“We’re aiming for a standard pool opening,” McCarty said.
Nearly a year into construction, the project has offered plenty of the small surprises that come with renovating old buildings, but the cost of the necessary change orders has been relatively small.
“We’re looking at an $8.4 million job, and we have $72,000 in change orders,” McCarty said of the additional payments resulting from the surprises.
The pool work, now at $8.49 million, isn’t the only improvement coming to Tourtellotte. The concrete and fencing have already been completed on a $589,000 project to add six pickleball courts and a plaza to the half-dozen courts already in place at the park. And a new $330,000 playground is to be added in the spring, with residents now invited to weigh in on the design at the city’s online public engagement site, everyvoice.mankatomn.gov.