The reopening of Hoyt Pool in Wauwatosa took another step forward last week as the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors approved a landmark lease with the Friends of Hoyt Park and Pool.
Under the lease terms, the nonprofit FOHPP would pay $1 per year to the county for the next 55 years.
All aspects of the pool operations, including maintenance, rules, staffing and security, would be overseen by a 13-member board.
The lease approval is a major step forward for the group in its efforts to rebuild Hoyt Pool, according to Denise Lindberg, president of FOHPP.
"The group owes a great deal of thanks to everyone in county government who were involved for 'thinking outside of the box' to give Friends of Hoyt Park and Pool the opportunity to be able to now move forward to raise the additional private funds," she said. "This is very exciting."
The FOHPP board would include representatives from the local and county levels, along with the school district, recreation department and local swim club directors, as well as community volunteers.
Lindberg said the lease with Milwaukee County is "all about governance."
"The governing board will set the rules of behavior, fees, operations, staffing, maintenance," Lindberg said. "And early indications show that many families in Wauwatosa would be interested in purchasing a season pass."
Leaks caused closure
Hoyt Pool, 1800 Swan Blvd., closed in 2003 due to major leaks. The county never reopened the pool because the cost to do so was far too high, pegged at $1.2 million three years ago and out of reach for an already-strained county budget.
Three years after the pool closed, Wauwatosa residents formed FOHPP to bring a pool back into the community - a more family-friendly community aquatic center to be used by families, schools, the recreation department and swim clubs.
In addition, the former bath house is being eyed as a possible year-round café, keeping Hoyt Park active all year.
John and Tashia Morgridge, former Wauwatosa High School students, donated a challenge grant of $4 million through their foundation, TOSA Foundation. The grant comes with two significant conditions: the pool must be open to all Milwaukee County residents and the FOHPP must secure a long-term lease with the county to run the pool.
Lindberg said the FOHPP group is working on securing major donors now for "legacy" gifts toward the new pool to match the Morgridge's $4 million challenge grant.
Not like the old pool
The new pool would not be your grandmother's Hoyt Pool. Plans include a smaller footprint for the pool, with deep diving wells and swimming lanes, zero depth entry, a slide, large umbrellas for poolside tables and chairs and child-friendly water activity areas.
The governing board will include the mayor, superintendent of schools, county executive, county board chair or their designees, community volunteers and swim club directors.
Lynne DeBruin, county supervisor and chair of the county's parks committee, said the lease agreement with FOHPP is a first for the county in terms of its type, and called it a "win-win" for everyone - county taxpayers, pool users and FOHPP.
"This is a major step for Milwaukee County," DeBruin said. "It's a wonderful gift for Milwaukee County. Creating this agreement has been a very long, complicated process because we have never done one like this before. Those we have done have failed in the past, so we had to start from scratch. Now we have a template to use with other groups who want to have similar lease agreements with the county. They paved the way."
Multiple county departments signed off on the language that gives FOHPP a lease for 55 years to run the pool - including securing insurance; hiring, firing, and paying of staff members; and any subleases within the bath house for year-round use of the park area.
"We are for the next 55 years giving over the running of the pool to a citizen-based group," DeBruin said. "There are significant insurance issues this group will have to take on. County staff will bid on work that will need to take place in this process; the group has agreed to hire county lifeguards to staff the pool because they are the most highly trained guards in the state. We have an excellent lease that protects the private nonprofit group and the county. This is a milestone for Milwaukee County in addition to the friends group."
In the wake of failures
DeBruin said that when the county first looked at leasing the pool to FOHPP, it was still stinging from failed leases with other groups like the Friends of Boerner Botanical Gardens.
"That failed within two years and the county has had to take it over," DeBruin said. "So the Hoyt pool group had more hoops to go through, but we all see that it is in the county's best interest to allow the Friends to have a lease that will help them succeed, not set them up to fail. This lease gives them a lot of autonomy and gives the county a $6 million facility with no taxpayer money for the next 55 years."
The county will not have to pay for any part of the pool operations, DeBruin said. It will be funded by the people who use the pool and the FOHPP soliciting donations.
The FOHPP must secure a $1 million endowment to be used to cover operational needs should the pool run into unforeseen problems with revenue.
Under the lease terms, FOHPP would charge all county residents the same fee; there may be higher fees for noncounty residents. That fee has not been determined yet but family season passes for Milwaukee County residents are planned.
In addition, the group has agreed in the contract to solicit bids for the pool construction from minority owned businesses.
The County Board of Supervisors approved the lease agreement with a 15-1 vote.
County can use funds elsewhere
By signing the lease with FOHPP, the county can use the limited funds it has for aquatics in areas where fundraising such amounts to build a pool would be impossible.
Lincoln Pool will be rebuilt under a current county aquatics plan, in an area serving low-income Milwaukee residents.
"No one has ever tried to give the county a pool before," DeBruin said. "We know it should not have to be the friends' groups fundraising to build a pool, but the county has real financial problems right now."
DeBruin said that if the FOHPP fails to meet its lease requirements, the county would take over the lease, and whatever is left in the endowment funds would divert to Milwaukee County with the express purpose of being used for Hoyt Pool.
"There are plenty of safeguards in place for county taxpayers should that happen, but I truly don't believe that will happen," DeBruin said. "This pool has historically paid for itself. This group has planned for every contingency. Taxpayers should be grateful - it is not being built at taxpayer expense and it is not going to be operated at taxpayer expense. This is as good of a deal as anyone can get for a new pool in the community."
Attorney Dennis Grzezinski assisted FOHPP with the lease agreement. His experience in drawing up a similar lease between Milwaukee County and the Urban Ecology Center in Milwaukee benefited FOHPP greatly, Lindberg said.
Talks are under way with the Wauwatosa Police Department and Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office to contract for added security beyond that which is done at other county pools. DeBruin and Lindberg recognize there are immediate neighborhood concerns about returning traffic to the area.
"This group is planning additional law enforcement protection at the site to benefit the pool users and the neighbors," DeBruin said. "The funds for that, too, will be paid for by FOHPP."
A secured bike rack is part of the plan so those using the Oak Leaf Bike Trail, which veers through Hoyt Park, would be able to stop at the café planned for the bath house.
If neighbors, organizations or civic groups are interested in seeing the plans up close and talking to members of FOHPP, the group is currently organizing "Hoyt Perks" at the bath house to show off the room and answer questions about the plans.
"It is a great chance to see the really stunning workmanship of the old Hoyt bath house and the plans for the new pool," Lindberg said.
Janice Kayser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (262) 446-6608.
WHAT: arrange a small group "Hoyt Perks" to see the plans, the bath house and have questions answered by FOHPP board members
WHERE: Hoyt Pool, 1800 Swan Blvd., Wauwatosa
WHEN: e-mail requests, with the name of the neighborhood association or group to FOHPP@wi.rr.com
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