Iowa City Parks and Rec weighs possibility of closing one pool and expanding another

Recreation Facilities and Programs Master Plan Open House

Monday, May 23. 2-3:30 p.m. at Mercer Park Aquatic Center. 7:15-8:45 p.m. at Robert A. Lee

Public Works Open House

Saturday, May 21. 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. at 3810 Napoleon Lane

The Robert A. Lee Recreation Center on Friday, May 20, 2022, in Iowa City, Iowa. – Adria Carpenter/Little Village

The 58-year-old pool at Robert A. Lee Recreation Center may be permanently closed under the Recreation Facilities and Programs Master Plan.

The Iowa City Parks and Recreation department has been working on the master plan for the past year and has held events and surveys to gather public input. The department will present their recommendations at two open houses on Monday, May 23.

“These are not final plans. This is a draft because we want people’s feedback, and we know we’re going to get positive and negative. We want it all,” said Director of Parks and Recreation Juli Johnson.

The first open house will be at the Mercer Park Aquatic Center in the P&G Room from 2 to 3:30 p.m.; the second will be at Robert A. Lee from 7:15 to 8:45 p.m. In addition to the facility recommendations, staff will also share initial redesigns for the City Park Pool and Mercer Park Aquatic Center.

The 72-year-old City Park Pool is losing water and is “impossible” to keep running in its current state, Johnson said. They’re presenting a plan that will keep the pool’s atmosphere and character, while adding new amenities like zero-depth and shallow water areas for families.

“We had all kinds of feedback, everything from full-on water park to, ‘Don’t touch it. Leave it like it is.’ And we’re resting kind of in the middle because that’s where most of the comments kind of ended up,” she said.

But the Robert A. Lee pool has reached the end of its lifespan. With high repair costs, the department recommends closing the pool and instead, use those funds to expand the Mercer Park Aquatic Center.

“We were a little surprised by how many repairs that’s going to need in the next couple of years to keep operating. So, one of the recommendations in this plan is that we actually stop using Robert A. Lee, and we add onto Mercer,” she said. “Those are huge questions for the public that we’d really like them to see and say, ‘Makes sense’ or ‘Doesn’t make sense.’”

Closing the Robert A. Lee pool and expanding Mercer would help reduce the city’s carbon footprint and help staff pools with fewer lifeguards, who have been difficult to find, she said. The proposed renderings for Mercer would add a 3-to-5-foot-deep warm water pool for aquatic fitness classes, senior exercise and swimming lessons.

“We have a really strong goal that every kid in Iowa City should learn how to swim. So, that helps us do that and leaves the rest of the pool somewhat as it is,” Johnson said.

The department would potentially add a third gym to Mercer as well, which would have an indoor walking track around the gym space.

Johnson doesn’t know what might replace the Robert. A Lee pool, if the city and community move forward with its closure. The recreation center previously housed a gun and archery range.

“We appreciate the amount of feedback we’ve gotten to date. People have been very interested in our recreation services, and we very much appreciate that,” she said.

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A snow plow at the Public Works building on Friday, May 20, 2022. — Adria Carpenter/Little Village

There will also be a Public Works Open House tomorrow from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The event will have indoor roller skating, an outdoor screening of the movie Field of Dreams, live music, food trucks, a quilt show hosted by the Old Capitol Quilters Guild and tours of the Public Works facility. The city will have booths from different departments, and kids can sit in the driver’s seat of snow plows, leaf removal trucks and other large equipment.

“It’s been fun to watch the guys cleaning them up,” Johnson said. “[Their trucks] are just like their babies, and they’re really proud of what’s going on.”

The quilt show will have 350 unique quilts, a quilt raffle and a silent action. Last year, the quilters guild donated 72 quilts to the Veterans Administration Hospital, 67 quilts to 4 C’s Child Care Center, 40 quilts to the Domestic Violence Intervention Program, 28 quilts to House into Homes, 15 quilts to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and seven quilts to Shelter House.

A quilt of the Old Capitol, made by Parks and Recreation Director Juli Johnson, at the Public Works building on Friday, May 20, 2022. — Adria Carpenter/Little Village

Below is the full music and entertainment schedule.

10-10:15 a.m.: Sparkles (The inclusive City High cheerleading squad)

10:15-10:45 a.m.: Pomtastiks (Senior Center members showoff choreographed dance moves to classic hits)

11-11:30 a.m.: Family Folk Machine (Local intergenerational choir play a wide range of songs and instruments)

11:45 a.m.-12:30 p.m.: Duke Otherwise (Clever music for all ages, Duke Otherwise’s music is folksy and fun for everyone)

1-1:30 p.m.: Dream Divas (Local dance and song troupe that’s a staple of local parades and events)

1:45-2:15 p.m.: Chickadees (Iowa music duo with a fun, folksy pop sound)

2:30-3 p.m.: SloMoBop (Local jazz band that plays some of the genre’s greatest tracks)

3:15-4 p.m.: Keith West (Iowa magician that has performed across the country.)