Parents Help Save Pool in Low-Income Minneapolis Area


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Hannah Lieder, foster mother and founder of Minneapolis Swims, has been working since 2010 to keep open the local Phillips Pool in a disadvantaged neighborhood in Minneapolis, Minn.

Hannah Lieder
Hannah Lieder


Lieder knows that children living in low-income, Latino, or minority neighborhoods have historically lacked convenient access to physical activity spaces, particularly swimming pools, compared to white or high-income neighborhoods.

These social and environmental inequalities contribute to disparities in drowning rates, physical activity levels, health outcomes and academic achievement.

Phillips Pool was in disrepair and under constant threat to be concreted over.

Now, six years later, Lieder’s legacy lives on, through Denny Bennett, as crews will break ground on the Phillips Aquatics Center this December, rebuilding a defunct 6-lane competition pool, and adding a 4 lane, warm-water shallow training pool, a hot therapy pool, and a complete fitness center.

Disparities in Drowning Rates in Minneapolis

Minneapolis foster parent Hannah Lieder was disturbed by the drastic disparities in drowning rates and lack of swim ability among minority kids in Minnesota, where African American, Latino, and American Indian children make up a majority of drowning victims.

Hannah Lieder and two Phillips neighborhood kids that testified with her at the state Capitol. Source: Minneapolis Happening
Hannah Lieder and two Phillips neighborhood kids that testified with her at the state Capitol. Source: Minneapolis Happening

More than 60% of U.S. Latino and African American kids can’t swim, compared to 40% of white kids, heightening minority kids’ risk of drowning, according to USA Swimming.

“There is a racial equity component to swimming,” Lieder said. “Minority children have less swim ability and drown at higher rates than white children.”

Lieder also was disturbed by disparities in income, crime, education, and health in Minneapolis, specifically in her neighborhood. Local minority kids suffered more obesity, diabetes, asthma, crime, and low high school graduation rates.

She believes historical inequity in access to swimming pools is a big contributor to disparities.

Segregation prevented minorities from accessing public pools before the mid-20th century. Inequity continued even after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, when many public pools chose to close rather than desegregate. This led to fewer, mostly private pools that required membership based on fees, area of residence, or social or employment status.

This historical exclusion mixes with remaining issues—“insufficient income, unhealthy environments, and inadequate access to opportunities,” according to a MinnPost report—all leading to multiple generations of minorities who lack access to pools and don’t know how to swim, Lieder said.

Today, Minneapolis has one school pool per 138,000 residents compared to the twin city of St. Paul, Minn., which has one pool per 28,000 residents.

“Pools and swimming instruction are vastly inaccessible to low income and minority children in Minneapolis, the City of Lakes,” Lieder said. “It is more than a recreation issue. It is a public health and civil rights issue, especially for children.”

Without pools there is a lack of swimming instruction. Then kids face drowning risks and for every one kid who drowns, another five receive emergency care for nonfatal submersion injuries such as brain damage and worse. When kids don’t know how to swim, they miss out on water-based activities—swimming, water polo, water aerobics, canoeing, and many more—that can increase physical activity and reduce the risk of obesity, diabetes, and more.

How much worse, then, when your neighborhood pool faces permanent closure?

Lieder was about to find out.

Lieder had been studying the benefits of swimming for years.

Swimming has been scientifically proven as a great cardiovascular exercise, not only for the physical benefits of reduced body mass index and reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes, but also for its low concussion and injury rates. It also is associated with improved motor skills, cognitive function, and academic achievement at various levels of education, including at the collegiate level.

“Schools that implement swimming programs have found that reading scores, test scores, and social skills have improved,” Lieder said. “Additionally, it is the only life-saving exercise.”

Lieder was so convinced of the numerous benefits of swimming and so devoted to reduce inequity in access to swimming that, in the mid-2000s, she and friends began an afterschool program, Minneapolis Swims.

Minneapolis Swims spent its first years bringing children from neighborhoods with no access to swimming pools to private and municipal pools in surrounding cities, local lakes, and the Mississippi River and teaching them how to swim.

But a new threat to pool equity emerged.

Last Indoor Pool to be Cemented Over

Phillips Pool, part of the Phillips Community Center since 1987, came under the operation of the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board (MPRB) in 2008 after the end of a 20-year lease with the Boy’s and Girl’s Club.

The pool shut down for renovations in 2009.

Renovation plans soon turned into demolition plans. The MPRB, which owned the pool but had never operated it, wasn’t interested in operating an older facility in need of repair and thus planned to fill the pool in with concrete and develop and indoor park among other facilities in the Phillips Community Center, Lieder said.

The last indoor public pool in Minneapolis’s urban center was on the verge of being closed forever.

“When I started, I just wanted to save Phillips Pool,” Lieder said. “I had no idea how few pools there were in the city as a whole and how little access children had to learn to swim, especially impoverished and minority children.”

There is great opportunity for the Phillips Pool to reach kids living low income census tracts. Note, the only three open indoor pools are in wealthier areas. Source: Phillips Aquatics Center Proposal to MPS
There is great opportunity for the Phillips Pool to reach kids living low income census tracts. Note, the only three open indoor pools are in wealthier areas. Source: Phillips Aquatics Center Proposal to MPS

When Minneapolis Swims realized their neighborhood pool faced permanent closure, they changed gears to try to prevent that from happening.

Lieder gathered evidence to fuel speeches and presentations on the benefits of swimming, framing the issue around equity.

With Phillips Pool closed, Minneapolis was down to three public pools in 2009, all in the wealthier parts of the city, Lieder said.

The Phillips neighborhood (25.98% Latino), on the other hand, had 54.5% of children younger than 18 living below the federal poverty level (a higher rate than Minnesota overall and the nation), alongside a lower Latino high-school student graduation rate (59%) than white students (84.3%).

“This is not a luxury, but rather a critical life skill, given where we live, that all children in Minneapolis should have the chance to acquire, not just those in select zip codes,” said Denny Bennett, a mortgage banking officer with Klein Mortgage and current board president of Minneapolis Swims.

The high school in Phillips neighborhood, South High School, had a swim team, but now had no pool. Coaches, swimmers, and families now had to travel all over town for practice, said Edwing Gelvez, assistant coach for Minneapolis TMT, a combined team made up of Minneapolis’ South, Washburn, and Roosevelt high schools.

“These people don’t have cars, they don’t have $80 to spend on private swimming, so these kids are cut off from all of the life-enriching activities that involve water,” said Lieder, who lives in the impoverished area. “How fair is that?”

Keeping Phillips Pool open and renovating it to meet the needs of surrounding schools and families could have a drastic impact on disparities in drowning rates, health, academic performance, and crime rates.

“At least 25,000 kids live within easy walking or biking distance of the Phillips Pool,” Lieder said.

“Bringing a new pool to the city will bring new programs that will develop these kids skills to swim,” Gelvez said.

Raising Funds at Local and State Level

Lieder sent a letter to a well-respected law firm in Minneapolis, Robins Kaplan, asking for help to address swim equity among kids. Her request was sent to Tara Sutton, a partner and chair at Mass Tort Group, as a pro bono case. Sutton’s daughter swam competitively.

Sutton and Lieder agreed that in order to gain credibility they first needed to establish Minneapolis Swims as a non-profit with 501c3 status. They accomplished this in 2009.

When Phillips Pool demolition plans went public in 2010, Lieder said it upset local residents, who emailed and called MPRB to complain.

On March 17, 2010, Ventura Village Neighborhood Organization hosted an event, “Connecting the Dots…”, to give residents a forum to voice their desires on the future Phillips Community Center. On April 19, 2010, the MPRB conducted a public meeting to obtain input about the entire Phillips Community Center.

Neighborhood kids that wanted Hannah to save the Phillips Pool. Source: Hannah Lieder
Neighborhood kids that wanted Hannah to save the Phillips Pool. Source: Hannah Lieder

Lieder and other Minneapolis Swims members attended these events and began talking to everyone about the importance of swimming to reduce health, achievement, and income disparities. They suggested the need for a complete swimming and diving complex to meet the needs of the neighborhood, the school swim teams, college swim teams, private swim teams, local businesses and organizations, and other aquatics programs.

Outside of the meetings they talked to kids, families, schools, neighborhood association meetings, local business and organizations, as well as leaders and elected officials in the school, city, county, and state.

“She reframed the issue in a way that people hadn’t thought about before, civil rights,” Sutton said. “It really got the attention of both sides of the aisle.”

This won them a six-month postponement on the destruction of the pool by the MPRB.

Minneapolis Swims and three Phillips’ community neighborhoods each provided $1,500 to hire an aquatic consulting and design firm, DJR Architects, to estimate the cost of renovating the pool: $267,000 for basic restoration and $650,000 for improved renovations.

In January 2011, Lieder presented the design plans and costs for a new swimming complex to the MPRB and asked for two years to come up with the funding.

In addition to capital investment in renovations, Lieder said the MPRB expressed concern with an estimated annual operating cost between $175,000-$400,000.

In May 2011, MPRB approved a resolution granting Minneapolis Swims two years to raise funds for the repair, renovation, operation, and maintenance of the swimming pool.

Sutton helped Minneapolis Swims draft and enter into a fundraising agreement with MPRB.

Given the high cost to renovate, operate and maintain a swimming facility, partnerships are critical to share in the operation, maintenance, and use of the facility, thus when beginning to fundraise, Lieder looked in all directions, from members of the city park board, school board, racial/ethnic groups, and more.

Lieder, her husband, (middle two) and two friends (Matt Little left and Quanah Machacek right) that helped raise awareness about the importance of saving the Phillips Pool. Source: Hannah Lieder
Lieder, her husband, (middle two) and two friends (Matt Little left and Quanah Machacek right) that helped raise awareness about the importance of saving the Phillips Pool. Source: Hannah Lieder

She approached the Phillips Pool project from every angle to prove the unique value of the pool to each different group and how they could work together to share operation, maintenance, and use of the pool. For example, schools could use the pool for P.E.; organizations could use it to teach water safety or therapy for older adults; competitive teams could use it in the evening; summer camps could use the pool as part of revenue-generating programs.

Local students and former Minneapolis Swims participants who learned of the pool’s fate would frequently visit Lieder’s home to chat about her work to keep the pool open. She served as a mentor and role model to many of the children.

This led Lieder to the idea to “put kids first” and have them speak up about why they wanted to save the Philips Pool.

Lieder’s husband, Kevin, her friends from the Phillip’s Native American community (Matt Little, Quanah Machacek, Tony Bowker, Carlyle Bowker) and other neighborhood kids helped Lieder raise awareness about the importance of the Phillips Pool as they helped pick up trash along a local river or socialized.

Lieder’s friend, Matt Little, with Little Earth urban housing complex, supported her efforts to involve the kids in advocating for the Phillips Pool and prepared “Save the Pool” cards for the kids about whey they wanted to save the pool.

Lieder reached out to state senators and representatives asking them to sit down and talk with her. Rep. Karen Clark and Sens. Jeff Hayden and Dave Senjem are three among many who immediately sympathized with her efforts. Clark, in particular, began to help her push funding for Phillips Pool as a capital improvement project in the 2011 bonding bill.

“Swimming not only saves lives, but it can also combat the obesity epidemic and provide a challenging, inspiring environment to help our children excel,” Clark wrote in Insight News. “We must make swimming more accessible to everyone in our city and stop the disparity. This is an important civil rights issue.”

The children even went to the capitol to testify and share their “Save the Pool” cards.

The school swim team also went to the capitol and voiced their desire to renovate it, which would allow the entire swim team to practice at the same time and avoid having to travel across the city.

“Hannah did it for a dual purpose, because she knew these kid’s stories would catch the attention of the legislature, but also it would help these kids,” Sutton said. “Somebody was respecting them, listening to them, cared about them. It gave them an opportunity to do something they had never done before, which was to speak publicly, to write letters, to feel like their voice matters.”

Local support continued to build among the Minnesota Chapter of USA Swimming, the Indian Health Board, Little Earth of United Tribes, the Minneapolis Public Health Advisory Committee, the Roy Wilkins Center at the University of Minnesota’s Hubert H. Humphrey School, Augsburg College, and other community groups.

Van Donkersgoed, a competitive swimmer since the age of 10 who now serves on the Board of Minnesota Swimming and USA Swimming, saw an article about Lieder’s efforts.

He reached out and connected her to local USA Swimming chapter committees.

Neighborhood kids that helped Hannah Lieder pick up trash to raise awareness about saving the Phillips Pool. Source: Hannah Lieder
Neighborhood kids that helped Hannah Lieder pick up trash to raise awareness about saving the Phillips Pool. Source: Hannah Lieder

“What I respect immensely about Hannah is that she won’t stop, and she does it from the grassroots level,” Donkersgoed said. “[She] literally took kids to the capitol and looked [the politicians] in the eye and asked, ’Are you going to tell these kids that they can’t swim?’”

However, the 2011 state bond for Phillips Pool was defeated.

Coincidentally, the same day of the bond vote, a child drowned in a Minneapolis lake.

Lieder started over in 2012.

Her case and support grew stronger over the year as she connected swimming to academics, drowning prevention, crime prevention, and health through lifelong physical activity, as well as equity for kids.

In early 2012, local resident, Anna Resele, started a petition to Gov. Mark Dayton to pass the bonding bill that contained the Phillips Pool. In it, she highlighted the civil rights, public health, and education issues tied to the neighborhood pool. Also in 2012, Wade Keezer, founder of the Native American Somali Friendship Committee, went door-to-door to raise awareness and seek support from local tribes.

“Part of [Lieder’s] admirable and eyebrow-raising strategy was schlepping neighborhood children, the homeless, refugees and immigrants to the Capitol to lobby to save the pool,” Gail Rosenblum wrote in the Star Tribune in 2012.

State Representative Karen Clark and Hannah Lieder celebrating at the Ohillips Community Center in May 2012 after the state bonding bill approved funds to renovate Phillips Pool Source: TC Daily Planet
State Representative Karen Clark and Hannah Lieder celebrating at the Ohillips Community Center in May 2012 after the state bonding bill approved funds to renovate Phillips Pool Source: TC Daily Planet

State Approves $1.75 Million

In June 2012, the House, Senate, and Gov. Dayton approved $1.75 million of the 2012 Capital Budget Bill under the jurisdiction of the Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Committee to renovate the Phillips Pool to include a six-lane competition pool and teaching pool through the state bonding bill; however, it required matching local funds of 20% or $350,000 by May 11, 2016 as well as a 20-year operation and maintenance commitment.

“[State bonding funds] gave Hannah the momentum to go back to the community and say, ‘The state has gotten behind and the governor has gotten behind this project, community, why aren’t you?’” Sutton said.

This also gave Hannah the momentum to work towards improving state-wide access to swimming facilities and swim lessons through public schools.

Since 2008, MPRB had transformed the Phillips Community Center into a unique coalition of local groups and organizations by leasing space like a co-op. They were withdrawing from operation and maintenance to let local groups and organization take over, sans pool. MPRB was not prepared to commit to this expensive project for 20 years, Lieder said.

Lieder said they needed MPRB to reach an agreement with another entity on pool renovation, operation, and maintenance, otherwise they would have to forfeit the $1.75 million state bonding money and the pool renovation project would die.

They also had to overcome “state lakes reduce the need for pools” and “kids who can’t swim shouldn’t be in the water” arguments, counter-arguing that kids with no access to pools are not comfortable in lakes, and that all kids should be able to swim and safely enjoy water, if they intend or not to be in water.

“The need for a pool in Minneapolis was so great I thought everyone would support the project once they knew about it,” Lieder said. “That didn’t happen. We had to work incredibly hard to make it happen and it wouldn’t have happened without support of the government at the state level.”

Making the Case to Parks and Schools

Phillips Community Center reopened in 2012 with five tenants: Ventura Village/A Partnership of Diabetics (A-POD), Waite House, Running Wolf Fitness Center, Somali-American Communities, and Minneapolis Swims.

Pools can be used by a variety of partners, who can contribute to operation and maintenance of aquatics centers. Source: Phillips Aquatic Center Proposal to MPS
Pools can be used by a variety of partners, who can contribute to operation and maintenance of aquatics centers. Source: Phillips Aquatic Center Proposal to MPS

Lieder continued to raise awareness and funds and pressure MPRB.

Lieder suggested MPRB apply for the Hennepin County Sports Use Grant, which established by the Minnesota Twins as part of a stadium deal; however, the deadline was fast approaching.

In October 2012, MPRB approved staff to apply for $325,000 through Hennepin County Sports Use Grant, which required $45,000 in matching funds from MPRB. This would cover the $350,000 required matching funds by the state; however, MPRB knew renovation and operation would cost more money.

Augsburg College provided $100,000 and MPRB was awarded the Hennepin Country grant funds.

The estimated cost at the stage was between $5-$6 million.

Through a first amendment in 2011 to the fundraising agreement, and a second amendment in December, 2012, MPRB required Minneapolis Swims to complete schematic plans for renovating the pool facilities, complete a sound business plan for operating the pool, and raise 25% or $1.25 million of its operating endowment and 50% or $395,000 of its capital budget.

Minneapolis Swims put together a design team to develop three conceptual options and more detailed cost estimates for the Phillips Pool renovation: “Option A” at $2.8M, “Option B” at $5.8M, and “Option C” at $8.2M.

Lieder continued fundraising and building support by posting letters on forums and continuing to rally local kids and present evidence about swimming’s benefits; Sutton continued helping with legal documents and negotiations.

Minneapolis Swims and other stakeholders agreed that they needed to focus their fundraising efforts on MPS, which without Phillips Pool was down to three pools for all student swimmers.

Swimming can transform the lives of Minneapolis residents. Source: Phillips Aquatic Center Proposal to MPS
Swimming can transform the lives of Minneapolis residents. Source: Phillips Aquatic Center Proposal to MPS

“The South High School Girls Swim Team has 79 swimmers and they have no facility to practice or to host meets. The team must be split up and bused to Southwest and Northeast which requires them to spend two hours per day being transported,” Lieder wrote in a letter to a forum. “And then they have to practice with 12 swimmers per lane! The South swimmers do not have an equitable experience to that of the student athletes from Southwest or in the schools against which they compete.”

Gelevez added: “We decided to be more involved in supporting the swimming community and the creation of the new pool because we didn’t have a pool to teach these kids.”

Minneapolis Swims worked with MPRB to develop a proposal—cover letter, introduction, project framework, design options, timeline, operating pro forma, cost estimate, letters of support, and more—to formally ask MPS to join MPRB and Minneapolis Swims as a capital and operating partner in what they hoped would become the Phillips Aquatic Center.

By May 2013, Minneapolis Swims had raised $2.2 million (including the state’s $1.75 million allocation), almost meeting their fundraising agreement with MPRB.

They still needed about $2.8 million to reach a critical mass of $5+ million for an eight-lane pool.

Denny Bennett showing a draft of the Phillips Pool renovations. Source: Denny Bennett
Denny Bennett showing a draft of the Phillips Pool renovations. Source: Denny Bennett

In July 2013, MPRB replaced the previous fundraising agreement, and subsequent amendments, with a Memorandum of Understanding between the City of Minneapolis, acting through MPRB, and Minneapolis Swims, which included protocol for the use of funds, fundraising, design process, construction, lease, and other responsibilities.

In November 2013, Minneapolis Swims and the MPRB presented the formal proposal to the MPS School Board, requesting: capital finance of $2.8 million; facility use fees between $150,000-$220,000; and ongoing facility management commitment.

Bennett had recently become more interested in the lack of affordable places for low-income kids to swim after his son saved a young boy from drowning in a lake. Bennett met with Lieder, the Minneapolis Swims board, and Hannah knew that this was someone who could help her achieve the vision she had for Minneapolis Swims, and when the time was right, take her place.

Meanwhile, through Lieder’s time at the Capitol, she met Minnesota Health Commissioner, Dr. Edward Ehlinger, who was focused on the social determinants of health equity-transportation, education, housing, and economic development-and was very interested in Lieder’s presentation. Dr. Ehlinger asked Lieder to talk on his Public Health show, which aired in 2014, and Lieder asked Dr. Ehlinger to support her efforts to promote equity in access to swimming instruction and swimming pools in Minneapolis. Dr. Ehlinger was more than willing to help because he understands that swimming is a life-saving skill. In fact as a practicing pediatrician, he used to ask his patients four questions:

  1. Do you have a library card?
  2. Have you taken your kid’s to the state capitol?
  3. Are you registered to vote?
  4. Can you swim?

Support continued to grow through 2014 and 2015, and MPRB and Minneapolis Swims continued to pursue MPS as a partner and explained the importance of expanding the previous six-lane facility to include an eight-lane pool, a four-lane training pool, and a diving pool.

At the urging of City Council Member Alondra Cano and other county commissioners, Minneapolis Swims set up a meeting to update all city, county, and state stakeholders on the Phillips Pool project. Bennett helped coordinate the meeting, which was hosted by the Mayor in April 2014.

Bennett became the President of Minneapolis Swims and helped build new relationships and additional support. He meet with local residents, city leaders, neighborhood organizations, MPS, MPRB, potential funders, and potential members face-to-face to talk with them specifically about the different components of the Phillips Pool project that interested or motivated them-drowning prevention, crime, health promotion, equity, community development, politics, etc.

“I went to their meetings and picnics, and I had a lot of coffees, breakfasts, and lunches,” Bennett said.

In August, 2014, the MPRB passed a resolution updating the fundraising agreement to officially accept state and county money ($1.75 million and $325,000, respectively) for a 20-year commitment of operation and maintenance of the facility.

Ventura Village Neighborhood Organization featured the Phillips Pool as an agenda item at their regularly-scheduled monthly general membership meetings and hosted additional public meetings about facility design.

Letter of support from State Representative Karen Clark. Source: Phillips Aquatic Center Proposal to MPS
Letter of support from State Representative Karen Clark. Source: Phillips Aquatic Center Proposal to MPS

The East Phillips Improvement Coalition (EPIC) contributed $50,000, Wells Fargo donated $25,000, Margaret A. Cargill foundation donated $50,000, the Rogue Foundation pledge $50,000, Midtown Phillips Association contributed $50,000, Ventura Village Housing & Land Use Committee gave $90,000, the Piper Family foundation donated $200,000, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community agreed to match local funds up to $250,000, and many other individuals, businesses, and organizations contributed.

By April 2015, Minneapolis Swims had raised $2.83 million in capital commitments, pledges, or cash, as well as $275,000 annually for the first 5 years in operating revenue, plus $20,000 annually in scholarships which exceeded their fundraising agreement with MPRB.

Through all of the ongoing support, MPRB and stakeholders continued working on the project and Minneapolis Swims continued educating MPS and other stakeholders about the benefits of an eight-lane competition pool with a 4-lane training pool (8/4) compared to a six-lane pool (6/4), particularly from a competitive swimming perspective.

Although the cost to build an eight-lane pool is about $2 million more, operating costs would basically be the same, thus increasing revenue potential, Bennett said. Two additional lanes open 16 hours a day could change the entire dynamics of the pool and the neighborhood. With an eight-lane pool they could: host conference meets, hold big events on the weekends, and rent the pool out for club teams and colleges to host events, all of which would positively impact the economics of the neighborhood.

The education gap cannot be solved exclusively by teachers in the classroom setting, Bennett said. Swimming programs can help bridge this gap.

On April 1, 2015 the MPRB adopted resolution 2015-165 approving the concept design for the 6 lane/ 4 lane facility and placed the project on its formal agenda for July 15, 2015.

School Board Partners with Parks Board

On June 18, 2015, MPS approved a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with MPRB to allocate $1.75 million in capital funds and make a five-year commitment to contribute $150,000 toward operating costs of Phillips Pool, if MPRB met the following six expectations:

  1. Priority scheduling through 2020 for Parade and NE Arena (MPS hockey), Neiman Fields (MPS baseball, softball and soccer) and Parade Fields (MPS football, soccer and baseball)
  2. Swimming classes and certified lifeguards for MPS students
  3. Collaborative planning, development and programming at Green Central
  4. Rehab of Todd Field for Washburn High School softball
  5. Completion of Bossen Park plan by 2018
  6. Commitment to establish joint capital planning, common source scheduling, program integration and shared leadership.

Additionally, in this MPS resolution, the MOU will address the establishment of a City Swims program with multiple partners to promote swimming lessons through pools, parks, and lakes in Minneapolis.

However, Minneapolis Swims was still about $500,000 short of their goal. Minneapolis Swims had finally proven to the MPRB that this was a viable project with broad community support. It was time for them to step in with more money.

On July 15, 2015, per Resolution 201-165, MPRB considered capital funding, operations costs, and construction cost estimates and approved to pay the final half a million.

MPRB held two public meetings for community input on the design proposal.

“In the end, we re-worked Option B, keeping all of the green, highly energy-efficient & environmentally friendly components that are expensive on the front end, but will save the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) tens of thousands of dollars over the life of the pool,” Bennett said. “In addition, we upgraded the “learn to swim pool’ to a full, 4 lane, 25-yard, shallow, warm water training pool, added a large therapy pool, and expanded and moved the fitness area to connect, and become part of a total fitness experience!”

New Public Pool to Teach Kids to Swim

In October 2015, MPRB approved the final Phillips Aquatic Center renovation design.

With the community’s input MPRB focused on a plan similar to Option B, a $5,466,000 project that would renovate the existing six-lane pool and second-floor spectator seating, and build a new four-lane teaching pool, locker rooms, lifeguard rooms, restrooms, lobby, and staff office.

The project is currently expected to go out to bid in September 2016 and start construction December 2016.

“We are moving around all the city find a pool to swim,” Gelvez said. “So that is why we are excited about this project, so we can have all the kids in one place.”

Edwing Gelvez talking about safety and health benefits of swimming in a video he created to support Minneapolis Swims. Source: Denny Bennett YouTube
Edwing Gelvez talking about safety and health benefits of swimming in a video he created to support Minneapolis Swims. Source: Denny Bennett YouTube

Renovating pool in the low-income, minority Phillips neighborhood increases and enhances access for kids who previously lacked it.

“It’s an education issue. It’s a public health issue. It’s a civil rights issue,” Lieder said.

“It is our dream for this to truly be a public pool, meaning little or no access fee for people to use the facility,” Bennett said.

The Phillips Aquatic Center is not ready but already is proving to be a valuable resource in the Phillips neighborhood and for the entire city of Minneapolis.

Numerous organizations and schools, like South, Roosevelt & Washburn High Schools and Augsburg College, plan to use the pool for practice and competition.

Gelvez and Bennett made a short video about the importance of swimming, particularly for minority families. They used the video to promote Bennett’s GoFundMe campaign to raise additional funds to furnish the facility, such as a diving board, kick boards, lane lines, starting blocks, touch pads, railings, and more.

“Everything we do in swim, on deck and in the pool, the kids were transferring and doing in their lives, in school and at home,” Gelvez said. “They learn new skills, help others, build new friendships, stay committed, and learn to be successful, which has a really positive impact on the rest of their life.”

Community members continue to support Minneapolis Swims and the Phillips Community Center.

Dr. Ehlinger’s Public Health show featuring Lieder continues to be aired on cable access television and Minneapolis television.

Sketch of ¬¬¬¬¬ Minneapolis Swims. Source: Minneapolis Swims
Sketch of Minneapolis Swims. Source: Minneapolis Swims

“We will continue to raise scholarship dollars to make sure that no one is turned away from swimming lessons for lack of funds,” Bennett said.

Minneapolis Swims has worked with Kimberly Adams and Sharrod Rowe to set up the “Sha-kym Adams ‘Learn-to-Swim’ Scholarship Fund” in honor of their son who drowned in 2014.

Since 2015, MPS and MPRB began exploring the establishment of a memorandum of understanding regarding a “City Swims” program with multiple partners to promote swimming lessons and classes led by professional staff and certified lifeguards for all Minneapolis children.

In June, 2016, MPS and MPRB voted and approved the resolution.

The final statement reads: “The “City Swims” initiative will be operational by February 15, 2018 contingent on the opening of the planned “Phillips Aquatic Center.”

By The Numbers By The Numbers



of Latino neighborhoods lack recreational facilities compared to 38% of white neighborhoods.

This success story was produced by Salud America! with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The stories are intended for educational and informative purposes. References to specific policymakers, individuals, schools, policies, or companies have been included solely to advance these purposes and do not constitute an endorsement, sponsorship, or recommendation. Stories are based on and told by real community members and are the opinions and views of the individuals whose stories are told. Organization and activities described were not supported by Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and do not necessarily represent the views of Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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