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East Grand Forks grants new life to Blue Line Arena

EAST GRAND FORKS -- East Grand Forks' Blue Line Arena likely will get financial help from the city next year to stay open, but some City Council members think the city's swimming pool should be closed to save money.

The council met Wednesday for a discussion on the Parks and Recreation Department's preliminary 2010 budget. There is more than $100,000 in capital improvements scheduled for 2010, but two of the bigger items are on the chopping block: $30,000 to repair the tennis court at O'Leary Park and $20,000 to purchase new playground equipment for parks.

Keeping it open

Council members favored offering more assistance to the Blue Line Club to keep the city-owned ice sheet open. But stepping in to help the club, which now makes loan payments and pays ongoing costs, means the city would have to pick up about $25,000 in additional costs each year.

Greg Leigh said he supports assuming the extra costs, and suggested not spending money on fixing the tennis court and instead use the money for the arena.

But City Administrator Scott Huizenga said while that might work now, the city would have those added costs each year. He suggested raising the parks department's fees to bring in some additional revenue.

Council Member Mike Pokrzywinski said that could be an option, but the city needs to be careful they don't increase things too much -- fees went up by about 20 percent last year. "I do think they can reach a point where they start having diminishing returns," he said.

The council will make a decision about helping the Blue Line Club after Dec. 1, when the final budget can be passed, but council members encouraged the club to come up with enough money to pour an ice sheet in November. The city wouldn't pay for that until January at the earliest, Huizenga said, because it would be in the 2010 budget.

Pool costs

The preliminary budget allocates spending more than $78,000 on the 1960s-built swimming pool next year, while it took in only about $24,000 of revenue in 2008. Huizenga said it is a money loser, which most pools are, but it is becoming a long-term issue because it is getting old.

It usually takes $5,000 in annual painting and patching work just to stay open, he said. "Obviously, the thing's not getting any newer." Building a new one could cost the city more than $250,000 a year in financing, he added.

Council President Dick Grassel said it's important for kids to learn how to swim, and he thought most of the city's kids wouldn't use the pools in Grand Forks if it closed.

But Council Member Wayne Gregoire said he'd be in favor of putting the pool to rest because its demise is inevitable. "It's like sticking money into an old used car full of rust," he said. "How far do you go?"

Council Vice President Henry Tweten admitted spending $5,000 a year just on temporary fixes is a lot of money. Still, he said that's much better to do until the city is in a position to build a new pool. "Let's not bury it too early," he said.