Aquatics center proposal swims toward vote in August

The City Council is moving forward with plans that could be put to residents in August.

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WALLA WALLA -- City Council is moving forward with an $8.1 million aquatics center proposal that could go before voters this August.

At a work session Monday, Council heard from a dozen residents, many of whom were there to protest that the aquatics center plan doesn't include an Olympic size pool, but most agreeing that city residents would still greatly benefit from a municipal waterpark, complete with two slides, a wave pool, a lazy river and a splash pad.

"I think it will pass and I think everyone in town will enjoy it ... this is something for our use and we do not have anything like this," real estate agent Peter Swant said, adding that with or without a 50-meter lap pool, he would vote for it. "It is just not right for Walla Walla not to have some type of facility like this," he added.

According to Parks and Recreation Director Jim Dumont, the facility would be open 98 days from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day, draw an average 400 children and 175 adults per day, pay for itself through admission fees and generate an excess of roughly $125,000 per year.

The excess funds would be put away for future maintenance and replacement costs or used to pay operating costs during cooler summers, when attendance would significantly drop, Dumont said.

While the financial picture for the park was well in the black, Dumont said adding an Olympic-size pool would force the park to operate in the red each year and require subsidies from the city's limited general funds.

"Believe me, if it was Jim Dumont, king of the world, we would have a 12-month (lap) swimming pool and I would pay for it. But financially it just isn't feasible," Dumont said.

Adding an Olympic-size pool to the proposed aquatics center would also increase the construction cost by about $3 million, Dumont said.

Operating in the red and using millions more in tax dollars didn't matter to a number of parents at the meeting, whose children are members of the Walla Walla Swim Club, which has about 125 youth members.

"I like having a water park and I will vote for a water park because I think it is good for the kids to go playing in the water, but I do strongly disagree with not having a lap pool," city resident David Hampson said.

About 22 people attended the work session, with roughly half of them associated with the swim club.

Walla Walla Swim Club youths use the 25-yard pool at Whitman College or the 25-meter pool at the YMCA, or they drive to either Pendleton or Hermiston to use 50-meter outdoor pools.

"Two or three times a week we are going to Pendleton or Hermiston," Walla Walla Swim Club coach Gerald Giedeman said. "Just food for thought, if you had a 50-meter pool, we would not have to go to Hermiston or Pendleton, we would have to stay here."

The $8.1 million aquatics center could end up costing closer to $7 million, Dumont explained, because $500,000 in donations has already been committed and there is a strong possibility that the Sherwood Trust would match that amount.

The remaining $7 million would be raised through a levy-lid lift of 50 cents per $1,000 of assesses property value for nine years for Walla Walla residents. Residents of other cities in the county or unincorporated areas would not be affected.

The levy-lid lift would require a simple majority and can only be voted on in August or November.

If approved, the owner of a $180,000 home would pay $90 more a year in property taxes -- $7.50 per month.

Dumont added that admission fees could be higher for county and other non-Walla Walla residents, who would not be affected by the levy-lid lift; city residents would pay $5 per child and $7 per adult.

Along with moving forward with the proposal, council asked staff and the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee to come up with a second phase of the project that would include a dedicated lap pool of either 25 yards or 50 meters.

It was undetermined if that second phase of the project would be included in the levy-lid lift vote later this year.

Alfred Diaz can be reached at alfreddiaz@wwub.com or 526-8325.

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