Those who came up with a cost estimate for putting in a new swimming pool — and just a pool — at the site of the old Memorial Pool on a napkin from a coffee shop based their calculations on optimism, not reality.
The fact is a pool big enough to serve the community (and host competitive swimming events) would cost over the “$1 million or so” tossed out by the armchair aquatic design engineers. A lot more.
A pool is now being considered rather than a water park with slides and other attractions because three ballot proposals — two bonds and a levy — have failed. City officials feel the only possible project taxpayers would agree to fund is one that’s modest.
But modest, when it comes to community aquatic centers, is at least three times more than the amateur estimators figured. Still, it’s less than half of what was proposed in 2012 when an $8.7 million aquatic center was on the ballot.
The city has hired Rowley International for designs and recommendations for rebuilding a water project that would be scaled back as citizens said they wanted.
Two plans have bubbled to the surface for consideration. One is an Olympic pool only, for $3.46 million, and the other is an Olympic pool that includes a separate children’s pool and one slide for $5.7 million. Both plans would include new showers and changing facilities.
But which one should be put on the ballot, if any?
Given the failure of the previous votes, it’s difficult to figure what taxpayers want and, more importantly, what they are willing to pay to build and operate a facility.
Last week the city launched an online survey via its Open City Hall website (bit.ly/UnCrSI or ci.walla-walla.wa.us/city/opencityhall) asking for comments.
“What we are trying to do is find that in-between space that works for as many people as possible,” said Jim Dumont, Parks and Recreation director. “The last two bond issues did not include a traditional pool and I think that has always hurt us.”
In addition, the city is asking how much of a subsidy, if any, taxpayers would be willing to pony up to operate the new pool.
That’s a critical consideration. A stand-alone pool simply cannot be sustained with admission fees. The higher admission charged, the fewer will come to the pool.
Pools with no added attractions (the bells and whistles) are not very popular today. It might well garner more than 70 visitors a day (at least for the first month) but it will have to be subsidized by taxpayers over the long haul.
The city and its Parks and Recreation Department are taking a prudent approach to this project by trying to determine how much is too much in building a new pool and subsidizing its operation. Better to find out now than in the wake of another defeat at the polls.