Henry Sibley aquatics center gets green light

With the City of Mendota Heights’ blessings, a new aquatics center will be built at Henry Sibley High School. Water activities will be moved from Heritage Middle School, the former high school location. (courtesy of City of Mendota Heights)

A unanimous vote of approval made by the Mendota Heights City Council July 16 was met by applause from a council chamber filled with supporters. 

The action gave the green light to a new aquatics center to be built at Henry Sibley High School, 1897 Delaware Ave.

ISD 197’s current pool is located at Heritage Middle School, which used to be the high school.


A delayed vote

Tim Benetti, community development director, said ISD 197 was seeking a variance for the construction of a new aquatics center at Henry Sibley High School.

The variance was needed because of building-height limits in the family residential zone in which the school is located that say buildings shall not be taller than 25 feet.

The city Planning Commission on June 25 met to discuss variances for the aquatics center, a gym addition and the school’s front entryway, recommending approval of the gym and entryway improvements while tabling the aquatics center until a special July 11 meeting. 

This delay was to give the school district more time to talk with residents who had concerns about the screening and appearance of the building. The council approved the gym and entryway variances on July 2.

Benetti said the proposed 21,000-square-foot aquatics center would be along the east side of the main building off Deleware Avenue. Neighbors had issues with the original plans, saying it was too tall at nearly 40 feet and too close to the road.

The district and its architect altered the plans, moving the center five feet off Delaware Avenue and lowering the building by four feet. Benetti said the plan also now calls for a berm and some landscaping measures along the area between Delaware and the eastern side of the building.

Benetti said the school is providing 97 new parking spaces for the facility, adding that as long as there isn’t a crossover of games or activities on campus there shouldn’t be any parking impacts.


Residents concern

During a public hearing on the variances at the June 25 Planning Commission meeting, school neighbors aired their concerns.

Adrienne Meyers, who lives across the street from the proposed aquatics center, said while she supports the building she would have rather had a dialogue with the district about the height variance and its affects on the area. Meyers said the first time she heard of the request was when the city sent a letter out 10 days before the meeting. 

“We would have liked to share with the district our concerns about the traffic noise bouncing off a 35-foot wall that’s 190-feet long, blocked sunlight to our property, light pollution from signage and loss of privacy,” she said, adding the discussion could have included possible consensus on potential mitigation efforts.

Meyers said the center as planned would alter the essential character of the neighborhood. She added the district did not prove its burden for obtaining the variance, and her concerns were echoed by others.


A quick vote

When it came to the council’s July 16 vote, members felt the school district had come up with a workable plan, lauding aspects of the design.

Council member Liz Petschel noted the Planning Commission added a provision to the plans requiring pollinator-friendly landscaping.

“Which is very important to us because we are a pollinator-friendly city,” she said.

Another provision dealt with lights and signage on the east side of the addition.

Council member Ultan Duggan said he appreciated the efforts of the community, school district and city staff in working to come up with what he said was a solid project.

“I think we’re going to have an excellent product,” he said.

The aquatics center is part of a $117 million overhaul of district buildings that was approved by voters last year.


–Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or hburlingame@lillienews.com.

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