April 3rd, 2017
New construction at the Phillips Community Center has begun, with a groundbreaking ceremony and a mini-tour of the site that will soon house the only indoor swimming pools in the city’s park system. Included in the plan is a renovation of an existing 6-lane pool and a new 4-lane teaching pool, housed in a soon-to-be built annex.
The project has been in discussion for years but has been in the serious planning phase only since the summer of 2015. The new renovation is expected to be finished early next year, opening to the public next spring, in 2018. When completed, visitors will be able to use family/flexible locker rooms, a fitness center, a community room, an aquatics reception desk and area for spectators for special events and swimming competitions, in addition to the two pools.
The large pool has been closed since 2008 when the Boy’s and Girl’s Club turned the facility over to the City of Minneapolis. The ceremonial groundbreaking on Tuesday, March 28, drew officials and neighborhood residents, some of whom have been working together since the beginning of discussions, to see that the new pool would be renovated and the annex, housing the teaching pool, would be built.
Officials wore hard hats and wielded gold-painted shovels for a few symbolic shovels of dirt, in front of the Center where, beginning this week, work will begin in earnest on the plan. The city hired JLG Architects, with the project managed by Dana Murdoch. “This would not be possible without the support from the community,” she said. “It’s been extraordinary.”
From the beginning, the pool idea was popular with almost everyone in the area. From both parties at the State Capitol, to the school board, with local officials as well as neighborhood organizations, the pool had widespread support, both political and financial. Much of the support came because there is a significantly higher rate of drowning among minority youth than among other groups.
The statistics are alarming. The Phillips neighborhood is 80% minority, and, among black children, the lack of swimming skills can be dangerous, even fatal. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 70% of African Americans can’t swim. Black children drown at more than five times the rate of white children and the result is that drowning is the second leading cause of death for young black children nationally. Among older children and young adults, drowning is the third leading cause of death among this demographic group.
These numbers haven’t been lost on local politicians, including Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, who said that the new facility is especially important because it will not only give local youth recreational opportunities but, “We’re the City of Lakes and we want to make sure all our kids can swim,” he said.
This is a matter of racial justice, said Rep. Karen Clark. Two years ago, she pointed out, everyone who drowned in Minneapolis was African American.
“This is a victory for people power,” she said. “The whole community deserves this. Drowning rates for American Indians and Latin Americans are high, too.
The first step in renovating the old building will be asbestos abatement and repair of the existing pool, then building the new annex. The completed buildings will include a fitness area, where currently the teen center is located. The project also includes reconfiguring the parking lot and adding new landscaping. There will also be a place where women, who need to swim in private for religious reasons, will be able to use the pool.
The soon-to-be renovated main pool will be 11.5 ft. deep at the diving end, suitable for high school competitions. The teaching pool will be heated but will be only 3.5 ft. at the deepest point.
Funding for the $5.5 million project came from a number of sources. The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux community donated a $500,000 matching grant, the Hennepin Youth Sports Program added $325,000, Minneapolis Public Schools added $1,750,000 and the organization Minneapolis Swims, a nonprofit aimed at swimming equity and access, added support in the amount of $935,000, among others. A State of Minnesota’s General Obligation Bond added $1,750,000 to funding.
The Phillips Community Center is located in South Minneapolis at 2323 11th Ave. S. While work is being done, most of the community center will still remain open.