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Island Park master plan takes first step forward with vote to rebuild pool in current location

The Fargo Park Board also approved the agreement for an outdoor amphitheater with Fargo Moorhead Community Theatre.

Two boys in mid-air jump off diving boards into a pool with a cloudy sky above.
Swimmers take the plunge from the diving boards at Island Park Pool in downtown Fargo on Wednesday, June 15, 2022.
David Samson / The Forum
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FARGO — It's final.

The downtown Island Park pool will be reconstructed in its current location on the northwest corner of the city's oldest park.

The decision was made in a unanimous vote by the Fargo Park Board on Tuesday night, June 14.

Planners and architects had been looking at another location farther south and considered four options, said architect Brett Gurholt, who headed up the master plan for the park.

Island Park, which was established before statehood in 1871, has been home to a pool for nearly 100 years, Gurholt noted.

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The current pool has exceeded its useful life at about 45 years old. It was built following the closing of the park's pool farther south that was constructed in 1936 and featured the massive cement grandstand that still stands.

The decision to rebuild the pool and bathhouse was delayed a year after the Park Board decided they should first complete a master plan for the entire park which was presented Tuesday night in what may be its final draft after being developed over the past eight months.

The park district has set aside about $16 million for the pool project, which would be in the first of three phases envisioned in the 68-page, 20-year master plan for the 39-acre park.

The goal is to spruce up and add amenities to the aging park infrastructure, develop a long-term vision and make residents feel safe and welcome. With the growth of downtown, Gurholt said, they are expecting more use of the park in coming years.

The message was loud and clear that residents wanted the park with its more than 1,000 towering oak and elm trees as a place for quiet escapes and a walk among nature, he said. Keeping the historic nature of the park, including the structures, was a top priority.

He said the plan involves adding gardens and trees to retain the natural feel of the park.

Recreation Director Kevin Boe said there were also "overwhelming" survey responses on the website and at two public meetings that were in favor of keeping the pool at its existing location.

Water splashes up around a kid as he dives feet-first into a pool.
Kentatta Chakua of Fargo hits the water as he dives in at Island Park Pool in downtown Fargo on Wednesday, June 15, 2022.
David Samson / The Forum

"It's pretty well cut and dry," Boe said.

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Park Commissioner Joe Deutsch said he was glad they at least explored the other options.

"But the citizens made the final decision," he said.

In campaigning for another term, Deutsch said he heard from people of "all generations who really have a passion" for the park.

The rebuilt pool area design is not yet finalized, but after two rounds of public input, some of the features will likely include a similar 50-meter competition-sized pool, a zero-depth pool for younger swimmers, a shade structure, diving boards, a water slide, a lazy river and an expanded, four-season bathhouse with restrooms and concessions.

The plan also involves reconstructing and consolidating the two parking lots by the pool in a more efficient layout with 150 stalls, Gurholt said.

The pool location and parking lot design will result in fewer lost trees, add back some green space and will be "easier to accommodate" as far as construction, he said.

Gurholt said the plan would also involve starting to develop the public gathering space, another goal for the park. The gathering space would allow events on Broadway to continue into the park and also help connect it to downtown, he said.

All kinds of events could be held there, he noted, with food truck hookups near the bathhouse.

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He said the Angel of Hope statue, a memorial for deceased children and others, that is in the same area would remain in its current location.

060922.N.FF.POOL.03
Karmah Zehe and Kody Wahl, both from Fargo, leap from the diving boards at Island Park Pool in downtown Fargo on Wednesday, June 15, 2022.
David Samson/The Forum

Another major project slated for the first phase in the master plan is on the opposite, eastern edge of the park where a condemned part of the Fargo Moorhead Community Theatre's facility will be torn down.

A memorandum of understanding was approved by the Park Board on Monday night allowing FMCT to move forward with demolition of the property and begin working with an architect.

FMCT plans to construct a 300-seat outdoor amphitheater with a stage area and use part of the existing structure for an indoor pavilion, classrooms and office space.

A lease that has existed since 1967 between the Park District and FMCT will be reworked to detail the new arrangement at the site, said Park District Executive Director Dave Leker. FMCT would own the structures that sit on the park land.

Leker said FMCT would work with the Park District to allow other groups to use the amphitheater.

Gurholt said the Park District could help with plantings and walkways to provide better access to the new complex.

Other improvements in the potential $2-million first phase of the master plan could include a joint parking lot for 60 vehicles next to the YMCA lot, upgraded and additional concrete or decorative sidewalks, new benches and signage, irrigation upgrades and more landscaping and seeding.

Gurholt said a parking study done earlier found that, despite the many people who simply walk to the park and 5,000 residents living within a 5-minute walk, 55% of residents drive to the park.

The master plan will be available for further public comment at IslandPark.MindMixer.com until the end of June. The final draft will come before the Park Board at its July meeting.

Gurholt also explained the preliminary plans for the second phase starting in five years and the third phase starting in 10 years.

A person strides past a painted sign on concrete that says "Just Keep Swimming" with a pool in the background.
Swimmers gather at Island Park Pool in downtown Fargo on Wednesday, June 15, 2022.
David Samson / The Forum

Highlights of the $2-million second phase could include adding two picnic shelters in open areas, more sidewalk and nature trail work, a small maintenance shop and a rain garden with a boardwalk south of the YMCA in an area that fills with water during storms.

Gurholt said the $9.4-million third phase would be the most expensive and could start in 10 years. The biggest project would involve building six tennis courts and three pickleball courts in a new complex in the Dill Hill area on the far south end of the park that is currently an open field. The area would also have restrooms and a 32-stall parking lot.

It would open up more green space in the center of the park by moving the existing tennis courts, Gurholt said.

Park Board President Vicki Dawson said it was a good move to keep that in the long-range plan, as the tennis courts were recently resurfaced.

Other projects in the final phase that could take up to 20 years are moving the basketball and handball courts to Dike West on the east end of the park, improving the area around the gazebo with sidewalks and gardens, building a fountain and seating area near the pool grandstand and a new playground area with equipment designed with a nature setting in mind.

There's a possibility of creating a park conservancy, similar to others at many urban parks across the country, to have a legal entity to raise funds and assist the Park District staff and Park Board with planning. Gurholt said several members of the Fargo resident advisory board who assisted on the master plan would be willing to serve on such a board.

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