Tonganoxie City Council approves pool closure for summer

Work continues on the Tonganoxie Water Park, which should be open on July 1. This photo was taken from the 25-foot water slides, which are to the left of the pool. The water park replaces the more than 80-year-old Chief Tonganoxie Swimming Pool, which closed in 2007. Enlarge photo

May 21, 2020

Tonganoxie Water Park will not open this summer.

City Council members voted to cancel activities this summer at the popular attraction. Tonganoxie joins several other local cities in closing their public swimming facilities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

City Manager George Brajkovic and Assistant City Manager Dan Porter presented various options for being open this summer in while adhering to social distancing regulations.

But with many unknown variables and liability concerns, the council eventually voted against opening this summer.

“We all realize this is a difficult thing,” Frese said. He went on to thank the council for their thoughtful discussion and city staff for its research for the discussion.

Porter presented a best-case scenario for opening that would have the water park open 15 days with limitations and then 45 days of high attendance. A worst-case scenario for being open would be a 15-day period with limitations and then closure. The third scenario was to close for the summer. Anticipated budget loss was about $20,000 for full closure, $25,000 for best-case scenario and $39,000 for worst-case scenario.

Brajkovic and Porter outlined some measures the city could take, such as limiting admission to the pool, but with it would come some potential problems constitutionally. For instance, limiting admission only to city residents could bring with it more problems in not offering equal access.

“The risk outweighs the benefits,” said Council Member Rocky Himpel. “I’m concerned about the young staff. I’m concerned about the procedures we have in place.

“If we are the only pool open, they’re going to be there from other cities.”

Many municipal pools in the area are opting not to open this summer.

Oskaloosa is an exception, as that area community’s pool currently is looking to open for the summer when Gov. Laura Kelly’s phased plans to re-open the state currently allow it starting in mid-June.

Tongie Tidal Waves, the popular community swim team, won’t have a season, as its league has canceled its schedule for 2020.

Water park staffs often include many high school students. The same is the case in Tonganoxie for longtime water park manager Darren Shupe.

Frese asked Shupe during the meeting if he disagreed with any of the information Brajkovic and Porter presented.

“First of all, I will say that Dan and George did their homework,” Shupe said. “I think they thoroughly did research on finances and safety for the water park. I will do what the city asks me to do. We’ll do our best to keep things safe. Whatever the recommendations are from George. Obviously we’ll support that as well.”

Council Member Jake Dale wanted to hold off on a decision at Monday’s meeting in case scenarios change before the next council meeting in two weeks. He eventually made a motion to basically hold off on a decision until the next meeting, but it stalled with lack of a second.

Another motion was then made to close for the summer. Dale voted in favor along with the rest of the council at that point to not open the park, including fellow Council Member Loralee Stevens who’s vote was “sadly no.”

“It’s heartbreaking to imagine we wouldn’t have it open, but given the gallons and gallons of water, the liability for the community and the limited scope of the pool, the limited capacity for children to go there, parents to go there and the potential financial loss, I really don’t know what’s coming.”

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