Pool’s out for summer

(First published in the May 7, 2020 issue of City Pages)

Parks officials delay decision about opening Wausau area pools, but it’s looking unlikely


Kaiser Pool in Wausau, during the height of summer

Discussions about opening Wausau area pools this summer highlight the difficulties of achieving certain COVID-19 milestones outlined in the state’s Badger Bounce Back plan to relax social distancing rules.

The Wausau/Marathon County Parks and Recreation department decided to postpone its decision on whether or not to open Wausau’s three pools this summer. With the pools traditionally opening in early June, staff normally would start filling them now and begin other prep. That’s not happening, and neither will an early June opening.

The Parks Committee will make a final decision at the end of the month on whether to open the pools July 1. With potential lifeguards on standby and the limited six week period, July 1 is about the last possible date to open, Parks Director Jamie Polley says.

The parks committee Tuesday made a similar decision with Marathon Junction’s splash pad in Marathon Park. But the Marathon Junction concession and family entertainment facility can open, contingent on getting the appropriate license from the health department, says Recreation Superintendent Karyn Powers.

Representatives from other area pools — Craig McEwen representing Rothschild/Schofield pool and Weston Parks Director Shawn Osterbrink for Weston’s pool — attended the meeting remotely. Polley says officials from all these Wausau metro communities are looking to coordinate their responses. If only one facility were to open, for example, people would flock to that pool, overwhelming it, Polley explained. It’s something parks officials across central Wisconsin will be discussing later this week as well, Polley says.

McEwen, who is on the Rothschild Village Board and on the Marathon County Board, expressed doubts the pools could open under Gov. Tony Evers’ Badger Bounce Back plan. He says Marathon County Health Officer Joan Theurer has indicated the state isn’t likely to reach phases II and III of the Bounce Back plan any time soon. It hasn’t even reached phase I. (Each phase is marked by certain levels of COVID-19 cases and testing that would indicate a downturn in the pandemic).

“I just think we should be upfront with the public,” McEwen says. “Putting this off until July won’t work.”

The decision in late May will largely be dictated by how far along the state is on the reopening plan. For the pools to open, the state would need to reach phase II, which allows gathering of up to 50 people. Another challenge is keeping people six feet apart, which will still be required under phase II. Only reaching phase III removes all restrictions.

To start working through the phases, the state would need to see levels of new cases decrease for 14 days straight, among other factors.