The Veterans Memorial Pool project will get going in 2019 after the La Crosse Common Council Thursday unanimously voted to accept a $3.14 million bid from a Minnesota construction company and fund the work in this year’s capital improvement program budget.
The La Crosse Common Council approved allocating $1.79 million, including $500,000 in expected donations, to the project, adding to the $1.47 million already set aside, at its regular meeting, where it also voted to hire marketing agency Metre to organize communications for the La Crosse Center renovation and expansion project, and celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day rather than Columbus Day in the city of La Crosse.
The vote to hire Wapasha Construction Company Inc. of Winona, Minn., to construct the pool is the last step before construction can begin. Efforts to get the pool open again began as the pool was closed in 2015, with community members arguing that the pool was vital to the neighborhoods surrounding it.
Council president Martin Gaul urged his fellow council members to approve the bid and the funding, which he said comes in $400,000 under the approved budget of $3.9 million and won’t affect the 2019 tax rate.
“This has been a hell of a slog,” Gaul said, but the bottom line is that the council has proved its dedication to the project.
“I think it’s important to remember that the business of building the pool has been settled, obviously. The task at hand was to do it under budget and the task at hand to put it forward for next year was to try to maximize those cost savings by not wasting any money that we are saving by building in ’19 instead of ’20,” Gaul said.
He added that waiting until 2020 to build the pool would prove costly, estimating a difference of $200,000.
The community fundraising committee is ready to get going on raising the $500,000 in private contributions to the pool, said council member Barb Janssen.
“They have an action plan. They have the motivation, as we’ve seen over the last several years. We just need to give them that little push,” she said.
She’s confident that they’ll meet their fundraising goal.
The council unanimously approved the capital improvement budget, which included funding for 5½ miles of street repairs funded through several sources, $1 million in new borrowing for bridge work and $1 million in tax increment financing for Trane Park.
La Crosse Center
The Common Council agreed to pay Metre $30,000 to keep the public informed and engaged as the proposed La Crosse Center renovation and expansion moves forward, despite the objections of council members who thought the price was too steep and the move should come from the center board.
Council member David Marshall argued that it was important for the city to be proactive and push for clarity as it works to get the public involved as early as possible during the development of new concepts for the project.
“Had we been more clear about our intentions earlier, there’s a good chance that we would have been able to avoid the very issue that split many of us in the council and split a lot of the public,” Marshall said, referencing the previous proposed concept, which had the convention center expanding into Riverside Park.
Council members Janssen and Doug Happel disagreed, saying that there was plenty of public engagement on the last concept, and it came without a $30,000 price tag.
However, council member Scott Neumeister, who represents the council on the La Crosse Center Board, said Metre would help the city avoid misinformation, citing the number of people who mistakenly believed the expansion would be a big, white box.
The vote was 10 to 2, with Janssen and Happel dissenting. Council member Jessica Olson abstained, saying she believed the council was stepping on the board’s toes.
Indigenous Peoples Day
The council also approved a resolution declaring that La Crosse will celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day each year, rather than Columbus Day, voting 11-0 in favor. Council president Gaul abstained and Olson was absent for the vote.
Council member Happel, supported the resolution, saying he was pleased to see it brought forward by council member Jacqueline Marcou.
“Christopher Columbus was not, probably, citizen of the year,” Happel, a retired history teacher and school administrator, said.
He praised the accuracy in the resolution, but warned the council not to forget the wrongs done by Columbus after his name is no longer celebrated each year.