It came down to the wire, with the final permits being issued just minutes before the 12:30 p.m. opening, but Veterans Memorial Pool in La Crosse had swimmers enjoying the water Friday for the first time since 2015.
Neighbors, advocates and city staff were overjoyed to let the first swimmers jump in and enjoy the newly renovated pool.
Lily Quackenboss, 12, was the first to leap off the diving board next to the water slide. Her mother, Heather Quackenboss, said the family supported the fundraising campaign and the city’s efforts to get the pool open because it was their neighborhood pool for years before it winter, this was the one that we loved. It was easy to walk to, it was easy to get to, it was our neighborhood pool,” Heather said.
Their family was ecstatic to have it back, especially with improvements like heating.
“It’s much better,” Lily said, adding that the diving board was nice and springy, too.
The renovated facility includes an updated bathhouse with modern changing rooms, a water slide and eight swimming lanes, as well as a zero-depth entry area and a 6-inch deep baby pool.
“I love that it’s kept what Memorial Pool was. You can actually swim here. You can go off the diving board. It’s that pool type of pool,” Heather said. “It feels very much the same, but it’s so much better.”
Council member Barb Janssen, a longtime advocate of Veterans Memorial Pool, said that was the idea. The project was the result of a lot of persistence on the community’s part and collaboration between the city and its residents.
“People really needed to know their voice counted, and I can’t think of a better example of public input into a public project. It’s glorious,” said Janssen.
She was happy to see people from around the city, not just the surrounding Grandview-Emerson Neighborhood.
“It’s a city amenity. It’s more than a neighborhood,” Janssen said.
It was fitting that the reopening didn’t go quite as smoothly as hoped, said Jacob Sciammas of La Crosse Neighborhoods Inc.
“Eighty-one years ago, they had challenges opening the pool on time that summer, and we’re here again,” Sciammas said.
Sciammas was one of the people on the Save Memorial Pool Committee created in 2015 to keep the pool at its location on Campbell Road next to UW-La Crosse. The committee, which included La Crosse residents from around the city, morphed into the Veterans Memorial Pool Campaign and raised more than $415,000 of its $500,000 fundraising goal.
“I’m ready to get wet,” Sciammas said.
La Crosse Parks, Recreation and Forestry Director Jay Odegaard was happy to welcome a crowd of people to the new pool.
“We’re going to keep it open as long as we can this fall,” Odegaard said.
Odegaard encouraged the crowd to give a round of applause to contractor Wabasha Construction, which worked through the winter and into the summer to get the pool ready for guests.
Friday morning, workers were finishing up laying tile in the bathhouse, cleaning things up one more time and getting the permits approved for the opening.
“They’ve been working their tails off,” Odegaard said.
While swimmers are welcome, the facility isn’t done yet. The parking lot and memorial to veterans isn’t quite finished due to some last minute utility changes, and the fundraising committee is still collecting funds.
To donate to the project, visit memorialpool.org.
The parks director also thanked the volunteers who sat on the various committees that worked to get the project done, as well as the La Crosse Common Council for providing the funding for the about $3 million project.