Time to move the pool project forward
This column contains my comments (with some modifications) made during Mondayís McCook City Council meeting as part of citizenís comments, which cannot have any further discussion or actions taken.
In October 2015, the McCook City Council appointed 12 community members to the pool committee. In that time, a lot has changed to say the least. But one thing hasnít: the McCook outdoor city pool. The pool was originally built in 1937 as a WPA project, a federal program designed to get people to work and stimulate the economy, with several improvements and modifications over the last 83 years.
I am a member of the McCook pool committee but I am sad to say that we have accomplished nothing in the past 4-plus years.
Actually, one thing has happened. McCook most likely now holds the distinction of having the oldest pool in Nebraska as towns smaller than McCook have elected to replace their aging pools.
Friend, a town of just 978, decided not to open their 1936 pool this summer, but last November voters approved to build a $3 million pool which will be done this summer, so it is a win-win for them.
In December 2019, Hebron with a population of 1,505 also approved the construction of $3.5 million pool, replacing their 90-year-old pool.
So if McCook doesnít already, it soon will have the distinction of having the oldest pool in Nebraska.
This past winter, I personally met with each City Council member to get some understanding about the pool project, what they wanted from the committee and how the project should proceed. I appreciate each council member taking the time to discuss the project and share their thoughts and ideas.
Then the pandemic hit and with it the economic struggles. But this shouldnít give us license to not do anything. In fact, this may be the opportunity we have been waiting for.
For those who donít know, the Keystone Business Center was brought back to life in 2009 during the recession. Most -- if not all -- of McCookís school buildings were built during a crisis, a world war, farm crisis, or a recession.
And the very pool we are talking about came into existence during the Depression as part of FDRís ambitious employment and infrastructure plan.
I understand the economy is struggling right now -- to say the least. I donít envy the city as it tries to keep people employed, figure out how pave our streets and meet its budget.
But I also know there is funding out there for surveys and to develop plans for programs which will benefit a community. Funding for the pool can and will come from a variety of sources, both private and public.
Those communities and entities with a plan in place when this crisis is over will be the ones who receive the stimulus funding to get the economy going again. Even we donít build a pool during this crisis, we need to have a plan in place.
The community wants to see this project happen. There is not a day that goes by that I do not have someone ask me about the pool. Now, I realize the streets need to be paved and the parks need too be mowed. But no one is moving to Omaha or Lincoln because of their streets; they are moving there because things are happening. We have the opportunity to make things happen, if we are willing to put in the work.
And this pool will be work, especially if we opt to dream big, perhaps with an aquatic center or a splash pad, or if it involves multiple entities such as the city, the school and the YMCA.
We also need to acknowledge that the pool will lose money but that future generations are worth it.
As the clichť goes, nothing good comes easy. But the citizens of McCook and Southwest Nebraska are ready roll up their sleeves and put in the work, put in the capital, put in the effort.
But the pool cannot happen without the support and persistence of the city.
Instead of lamenting that we donít have tax revenues so we canít make capital improvements; letís switch the narrative. How about we say, how do fund capital improvements, so we have more tax revenues; which then becomes we have more tax revenues so we can make capital improvements. It is simply switching from a scarcity mindset to one of abundance.
There is never a perfect time to do something. If we waited for the perfect time to do something, it would never happen. Instead, we should be looking for is the ideal time and if that isnít possible, then at least manageable.
As this project moves forward, I will talk to each and every person who wants to discuss the pool, whether you are for it or against it. And ultimately, this project should go to a vote of the public and let them decide the future of the McCook pool.
I would like to end with one final thought. I was on the pool committee in 1999 when we opted to spend $1 million to renovate our current pool. That investment bought us 20 years.
But it is time to move this project forward for our kids. To expect them to be satisfied with an 80-year-old pool is unreasonable. We owe this to our kids. We owe this to the families with young kids who we want in our community as we retire. We owe this to the generations to come, who simply want to call McCook home.
Since the meeting, I am happy to report that the McCook Pool Committee has been scheduled to meet next week. Thanks to everyone who is helping move this project forward.