Iowa City considering upgrading two pools, closing another

Swimmers dive into the pool at the start of the 50-yard freestyle event during a girls’ high school swim meet at the Mercer Park Aquatic Center in Iowa City. (The Gazette)

Jeff Davis with the Iowa City parks and recreation department joined with facilities department workers to paint the bottom of the City Park Pool in Iowa City, Iowa, on Tuesday, May 11, 2021. Workers from the city’s facilities department used about 32 gallons of paint to cover the over 70-year-old pool last year. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

The Robert A. Lee Community Recreation Center in Iowa City. (The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Iowa City is weighing possible renovations — and a potential closure — for its city pools under the Gather Here Recreation Master Plan.

The draft plan recommends renovating City Park Pool to make it more accessible and meet a variety of needs. It also recommends adding a warm water fitness pool to the Mercer Park Aquatic Center Pool and closing the pool at the Robert A. Lee Community Recreation Center, which is in need of extensive repair.

The recommendations, which also include improvements to Scanlon Gymnasium and athletic fields, were put together after last year’s public input events and analysis from BerryDunn, the consulting firm working with the city.

The plan, which will span 10 to 15 years, is meant to re-imagine recreation while also evaluating current conditions, life span and programming. The goal of the master plan is to shape the facilities and programs to better serve the community, according to the city.

Juli Seydell Johnson, the city’s parks and recreation director, said the plan imagines a different way to do services — a balanced plan with bold, big ideas. That said, Seydell Johnson emphasized these are draft ideas and the city wants to hear more feedback from residents.

“There are some fairly large, big picture things that we’re thinking about, so we really would like to hear from the public,” Seydell Johnson said.

As part of the second phase of community feedback, the city held two open house events earlier this week and is asking residents to submit comments online through June 4 by going to

City Park Pool renovations

The 73-year-old City Park Pool needs to be renovated, said Dannielle Wilson, a recreation consultant with BerryDunn.

The pool currently loses 30,000 gallons of water per day, Wilson said.

“Sure, we could try to keep band-aiding, but a band-aid is only going to hold this age of a pool together for so long, and really, the recommendation is you’ve got to move forward with renovating it,” Wilson said.

Community feedback indicated residents would like a new design but want to keep some of the facility’s original character.

Potential renovations include gender neutral locker rooms, more shade, zero depth entry, increased accessibility, lap lanes, deep water with diving boards, drop slide and a current pool.

Closing pool at Robert A. Lee after adding to Mercer

The 58-year-old pool at the Robert A. Lee Recreation Center is in need of “extensive and expensive repair,” according to the consulting firm.

The cost to fully renovate the Robert A. Lee pool and locker rooms is estimated between $4.5 million and $5 million.

“One of the things that needs to be considered is comparing the cost to renovate this pool to potentially building something new at Mercer,” said Elsa Fischer, a senior consultant with BerryDunn.

The recommendation is to add a warm water pool next to the existing Mercer Aquatic Center Pool, which is in good condition, and close the pool at recreation center once the warm water pool is added. Adding the warm water pool to Mercer is estimated between $8.1 million and $9 million.

In addition to the renovation cost, Seydell Johnson listed some of the reasons why the recommendation is to close the Robert A. Lee pool. She said people requested a warm water pool with better parking, which has been a “consistent request” for the last five years.

Additionally, she said pool’s use is lower and the city is looking at how to be efficient with staffing.

The recommendation to close the pool at Robert A. Lee is only if the warm water pool is added, Seydell Johnson said. Once closed, the pool at Robert A. Lee could then be repurposed.

Other opportunities

The consulting firm also outlined potential renovations for Scanlon Gymnasium, including an indoor walking track which was highly requested.

Other renovations include an additional gym, health and fitness space, multipurpose spaces and an interactive place for games and esports.

Residents are also asked to offer feedback and help prioritize improvements at five athletic field sites.

  • Upgrades at City Park: ball diamond improvements and pickleball/tennis estimated at $4 million to $5 million
  • Eastside Sports Complex: ball diamonds, rectangular fields, dog run, picnic areas, loop trail, restrooms and playground estimated at $35 million to $40 million
  • Kickers Sports Complex: design master plan and implement recommendations estimated at $50,000 for the plan and $1 million to $2 million for recommendations
  • Mercer Park: ball diamond renovation, new concessions roof, shade features, LED lights, pickleball renovation/expansion estimated at $3 million to $4 million
  • Napoleon Park: ball diamond improvements estimated at $1.5 million to $2 million

The draft recommendations, along with public input, will be presented to the Iowa City Council during its June 21 meeting.

After receiving feedback from the public and council, the Parks and Recreation Department will work on finalizing the plan later this summer or early fall, Seydell Johnson said.

Comments: (319) 339-3155; [email protected]

Iowa City considering upgrading two pools, closing another