Marci Duncan (left) and Kim Kelly serve on the Lake City Pool Project Fundraising Steering Committee. Kelly is also city administrator/clerk. Other committee members are Jeanne Devine, Christy Hardy, Jim Henkenius, Caryn King, Colleen Petzenhauser, Kevin Poen, Peggy Scanlan and Duane Sporleder. Daily Times Herald photo by Larry Devine
Marci Duncan (left) and Kim Kelly serve on the Lake City Pool Project Fundraising Steering Committee. Kelly is also city administrator/clerk. Other committee members are Jeanne Devine, Christy Hardy, Jim Henkenius, Caryn King, Colleen Petzenhauser, Kevin Poen, Peggy Scanlan and Duane Sporleder. Daily Times Herald photo
by Larry Devine
Thursday, January 12, 2012

LAKE CITY — Lake City certainly isn’t one of the big towns competing for the $50,000 first prize in a Reader’s Digest online voting contest, but it’s making a big splash nonetheless.

Spurred by desire to win the prize, which would be a big step in the town’s fundraising for construction of a new swimming pool, Lake City has surged to the front of the voting.

In Reader’s Digest’s We Hear You America campaign, Lake City, population 1,727 in the 2010 census, holds the No. 1 position. The Reader’s Digest website this morning showed Lake City with 1,891,801 votes, followed by Higginsville, Mo., (population 4,600) in second place with 1,482,068 and Minot, N.D., (population 36,000) third with 914,943.

In a recent interview on the pool project with Marci Duncan, Lake City Pool Project Fundraising Steering Committee member, and Kim Kelly, city administrator/clerk and committee member, Duncan commented on Lake City’s success so far against the bigger cities, “We may have a stronger community spirit and following than perhaps they have,” adding, “It’s like David and Goliath. It’s amazing that here’s Lake City, in rural Iowa, sitting on top.”

But it’s not clear sailing for Lake City. The voting doesn’t finish until March 1. So Duncan cautions, this is a marathon and not a sprint. Spurred by the slogan “Every Voter Matters, Every Vote Counts,” Lake City children and adults, and even many community supporters who live elsewhere in Iowa or other states, are voting — and voting often.

In order to make this mission possible, the goal is to enlist 400 or more people committed to casting at least 100 votes a day, guaranteeing at least 40,000 votes.

In addition, the community rallied for a vote-a-thon on Sunday, Dec. 4, and plans another one this Sunday, Jan. 15.

The city library — open from 1 to 5 p.m. — will be the focus point for the effort. However, people can vote from the library, home or anywhere else by visiting the site, or Google We hear you America. In the voting, Lake City’s ZIP code is 51449.

 The December vote-a-thon surpassed organizers’ goal of 150,000 votes.

“We met the goal at 10:30 that night and went 4,000 over that,” Kelly noted. “So that was exciting.”

Lake City had also joined the Reader’s Digest competition a couple of years previously but got off to late starts and was limited by voting restrictions. Previously each voter could cast only 10 votes a day, however, this year there is no limit.

In previous years, Duncan said, “The leaders were so far ahead, we never could catch up. When we started voting this time (in November) we were one of the first 25. Then we got enough people committed that we started climbing and climbing, and that got people excited.”

“We have some very dedicated voters,” she added.

The contest awards 18 prizes: $50,000 for first place, $25,000 for second and third places, $10,000 for the next five places, and $5,000 for the following 10 places. Kelly urges residents in neighboring communities support Lake City’s effort and bring the money to Iowa. No other Iowa cities are currently in the top 18.

With a goal of raising $2 million for a new pool, Lake City has set sights on the $50,000.

The pool fundraising, which started 2½ years ago, has generated $830,000. Duncan and Kelly said the Reader’s Digest contest has reinvigorated the campaign.

The community’s success so far in the We Hear You America vote indicates support for the pool project, Kelly said.

“There may be some people who a few years ago said we didn’t need a new pool who are now voting. They’re excited about it.”

She added, “There is a need (for a new pool). Even if you don’t use the pool, it’s good for the community, it helps bring new families to town and keeps families in town. It’s just an exciting project.”

Before proceeding with plans for a new pool, community residents received surveys with their utility and water bills, and survey forms also were available at banks. Duncan and Kelly said only 4 percent commented against the project.

“So we took that as a green light and have run with it,” Duncan said.

Duncan and Kelly said Lake City is making frequent Band-Aid fixes to the current pool, which opened in 1957. “It’s time to get a pool upgrade,” Kelly said.

The outdoor pool in Goins Park on the west side of town a couple of blocks north of Highway 175 has required a number of mechanical repairs, and it also loses water. The city recently replaced the heater, making that purchase so the equipment would be compatible with the planned new structure.

Duncan said, “Every year we have small problems that are a pain. Every year we hold our breath when the guys go down there to fill (the pool) up and turn on the pumps. Is it going to work?”

Kelly added that it’s frustrating to occasionally put in a  few hundred or a couple of thousand dollars to keep the pool going.

“We put in as little money as we have to,” she said.

In addition to the pool’s operating-system and piping problems, the bath house has deteriorated badly.

“The bath house is disgusting,” Duncan said. “It’s just yuk.”

Daily attendance at the pool averages 70 to 80, and the swim-team program also is popular with about 80 boys and girls ages 5 through 18 participating, according to Kelly. However, the current pool causes issues with the swim-team program. The pool is not regulation length, and depth at one end is too shallow for diving off blocks, so swimmers have to start in the water. That makes Lake City unattractive for hosting meets in its conference.

Plans for a new pool, drawn up with FEH Associates Inc. Architects and Engineers working in association with US Aquatics, is a $2 million facility that would meet the community’s basic needs, Duncan and Kelly said.

This won’t be an aquatic center similar to those at Storm Lake or Fort Dodge that cost in the $4 million area, they said.

Duncan said, “I think it was important to a lot of people in getting basic support for the project that it was a pool for Lake City, not a pool to try to draw a lot of people to the community. We’re not trying to sell an aquatic center.”

Features of the new facility include a six-lane lap pool that mushrooms to a splash area with a zero-depth entry, two diving boards, a drop slide, water features such as sprinklers and fountains, and a plunge area. After the pool is built, fundraising may continue for other features such as slides in the plunge area.  

Duncan and Kelly said the new pool will be more family friendly than the current facility. The current kids’ pool is fenced separate from the main pool, making it difficult for parents to keep an eye on children in both pools.

A bigger concession area in the new pool will offer an improved selection, which would be an important revenue source.

Kelly said pools and aquatic centers don’t make money for communities but are vital for quality of life and economic development.

If Lake City goes without a pool for awhile, she noted, about 80 kids wouldn’t have the opportunity to compete on swim team, and kids and adults would lose exercise and recreation opportunity.

The new pool would be built at the same site as the current pool on the south side of Goins Park. Duncan and Kelly said the Goins family donated the park with one of the specific purposes of building a pool. The pool also fits a recreation complex that includes ball fields, soccer fields, play equipment and shelterhouses.

“It’s a nice location. Kids can ride their bikes there, it’s a safe place,” Duncan said.

Duncan said $1.5 million is an important threshold in fundraising because at that point the campaign can seek grants and plans can be made to raze the current facility.

“We would like to be at $1.5 million before we apply for grants,” she said, “because funders like to see that money is going to be put immediately to work.”

She also said that at that point the campaign could go back to the City Council and see if the city is willing to borrow against the pledges that are coming in.

The city kicked in a lead pledge of $300,000, showing substantial support for the project. Kelly said the city isn’t in a position to bond for the project.

“We’ve had several street projects over the years and have quite a bit of the bonding limit tied up in that,” she said, adding that the city wants to avoid increasing taxes.

Duncan said she hopes the city captures the same spirit that has made other major community projects possible in recent years: new library, medical clinic, football-field bleachers and athletic track.

While the Reader’s Digest vote may give the project a big boost, Kelly pointed out that face-to-face appeals provide the bulk of the fundraising.

Other efforts have included an alumni challenge among the high-school graduation classes; raffles; a Halloween family dance, sub-sandwich sales; a fill-the-pool-with-grain campaign, requesting farmers donate a portion of their harvest.

A raffle and community spaghetti dinner with homemade pasta and sauce on the menu will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 4, at the Community Building.

The campaign has received a cornerstone challenge, with a potential donor pledging $100,000 if somebody will match that amount.

The campaign lists a number of donation levels for recognition, such as Cornerstone, $100,000; Builder, $50,000; Partner, $15,000; Associate, $10,000; Sponsor, $5,000; Supporter, $1,000; and Friend, $500.