Almost two years ago, the exploration of an outdoor community pool washed out because there simply wasn’t a place to put it.
But hope for an outdoor pool resurfaced Thursday, July 18, as the Community Development Authority considered the potential uses of a 12.2-acre site it will get control of next year after the Verona Area School District abandons two elementary schools off West Verona Avenue.
The CDA is an arm of city government that takes the lead on some housing and urban renewal projects. The last major project it undertook was construction of the Sugar Creek Apartments in the 1990s, coincidentally adjacent to the VASD site. It was also involved in 2015-16 in the planning the future of the Matts house, which ended up being restored privately.
A community pool is just one of several potential amenities suggested for the VASD site, and it would use only a fraction of the property, even though planning in 2017 suggested about eight acres would be needed. Partly, that is because commissioners pushed for the site to have a mix of public and private uses and shared parking.
The CDA is still early in the process, and Thursday’s meeting was a presentation of four distinct options from a UW-Milwaukee graduate student-run design firm, Community Development Solutions. CDS toured the site earlier this year, and among the guidelines the city provided were keeping the century-old New Century School building intact and offering options that included a community center, an area for music and space for downtown-style mixed use – small businesses on the first floor of some buildings and apartments above.
While none of the options presented earned a clear thumbs-up, commissioners seemed to draw a consensus on several individual pieces and agreed on some revised concepts they’d like to see again.
Those included a music pavilion of some sort on the northeast corner of the site, at Marietta Street, space for commercial use along West Verona Avenue, shared parking, a trail through parkland, apartments and a pool sharing parking with various elements of the site.
CDS had included an indoor pool in one of its design concepts and a splash pad in others, but the group quickly agreed with commissioner Erin Welty’s comment that with the new Verona Area High School building two indoor pools and Fireman’s Park having opened the city’s first splash pad a month ago, those would be redundant.
An outdoor pool got much more enthusiasm, even though it would be usable for less than three months. The city spent almost a year examining whether it could build a community pool in 2016-2017, after some alders balked at the high price of a Fireman’s Park rebuild, which had been scheduled for 2017-18.
Eventually, city leaders came to the conclusion there were no reasonable options available for a pool. The three most talked-about were the 100-acre VAHS site, which ran out of room early in its design process, an area of Badger Prairie County Park next to the library, which did not get a positive response from the county, and Fireman’s Park, which wasn’t big enough, even with an expansion into the adjacent forest.
The Sugar Creek land was on the city’s list of options, but at the time, the city and school district were still in contentious negotiations and acquisition was questionable. Even then, with the site considered a redevelopment area, some thought a pool would not be the best use of the land.
A mix of pool area and other, tax-generating functions could fit the bill, however.
Whether it will actually fit and be functional remains to be seen, as the combination of uses CDA members proposed was not in any of the initial design plans and there was some concern that it was being packed too tightly.
“If you get a lot of community uses, you’ll chew a lot of that site really quick,” interim city administrator/planning director Adam Sayre pointed out at the meeting.
There’s also no guarantee the entire site will be available, as it includes five properties not in the city’s possession – the former Michael’s and Treads bar site, a hair salon, a print shop, a house and a small apartment building. Michael’s and the apartment owner have indicated an interest in working with the city, though, Sayre told the CDA.
There was some question about the viability of putting too much retail into the site, given the critical mass of other area projects, and it remains uncertain how the plan might change once a developer gets involved and gauges the market.
CDS is expected to bring back perhaps three more options with various configurations at the next CDA meeting, which has not been scheduled but typically is held once a month on a Thursday.