city council nov. 8, 2021

John Day City Manager Nick Green discusses plans for a new aquatic center while City Councilor Gregg Haberly, left, and Mayor Ron Lundbom look on.

JOHN DAY — Plans for a new public swimming pool took another step forward on Tuesday, Nov. 9, as the John Day Planning Commission granted a permit for the project and the City Council took several actions to advance the proposal.

In the first of two back-to-back meetings at the John Day Fire Station, the Planning Commission voted 3-1 to grant a conditional use permit to the John Day/Canyon City Parks and Recreation District for a proposed aquatic center at the Seventh Street Sports Complex to replace the old Gleason Pool, located in a city park adjacent to the Kam Wah Chung State Historic Site.

Gleason Pool, which opened in 1958, has been closed the last two seasons due to COVID-19 concerns and has significant deferred maintenance issues. Plans for the new aquatic center call for a six-lane, 25-yard competitive pool with spectator seating and an 8,000-square-foot structure to house locker rooms, a lobby and office space for parks and recreation staff.

The project has an estimated price tag of $6 million.

In the second meeting Tuesday night, the John Day City Council voted unanimously to approve the sale of Gleason Park to the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department for $222,000, the 3-acre property’s maximum appraised value. The state plans to expand the Kam Wah Chung Historic Site on the park property and add a number of improvements, a $4.5 million project that will include a new interpretive center highlighting the history of Chinese immigrants who flocked to John Day during the city’s days as a mining boomtown.

As part of the land deal, the city agreed to demolish the old pool. City Manager Nick Green estimated the demolition would cost about $80,000, but he added that state grants were available to offset most of the expense and the city would be able to use concrete from the old pool in street projects.

The city has already obtained $2 million in state funding for the aquatic center project and is considering up to $1 million more in cash and in-kind contributions for site improvements, including the money from the sale of the Gleason Park property. The city also plans to cover utility costs for the new pool.

The parks and rec district still needs to raise roughly $3 million to $4 million to cover design and construction of the aquatic center, depending on the city’s contribution and final cost estimates. The district plans to put a bond measure on the ballot next year for either the May or the November election.

At that price range, the bond add between 53 cents and 72 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation in taxes for property owners in the district, according to data presented by Green at the council meeting. For the average household with property assessed at $120,000, that would mean $64 to $86 per year in added property taxes for the 20-year life of the bond.

If voters in John Day and Canyon City (the area covered by the district) approve the bond measure, the new aquatic center could open as soon as the summer of 2023 (based on a May 2022 election). If voters reject the measure, the pool would not be built.

Design work on the pool is still in the preliminary stage, making it difficult to obtain accurate cost estimates, Green said. He proposed that the city obtain a $3 million line of credit, secured by the proceeds from the land sale, to cover 90% of the design costs so design work can begin before the $2 million state grant comes through. That way, he said, voters would have a clear idea of how much pool their money would buy before the bond measure comes to a vote.

Several councilors spoke in favor of that strategy, and the council voted unanimously to put out a request for proposals from design firms.

Both of Tuesday’s meetings drew plenty of public comment, with the vast majority of speakers favoring the new aquatics center.

Arguments in favor included teaching children to swim in a supervised setting, providing a facility for the Grant Union High School swim team to train and host swim meets, supporting the health of the community and providing an amenity that would attract people to the area.

“I think it is vital for the health of the community and the safety of our youth to have a place to learn how to swim,” Beth Spell told the Planning Commission.

Haley Walker, chair of the Grant School Board, made a similar point during the City Council meeting.

“If the swimming pool and swimming lessons and the opportunity to learn how to swim save one life, it’s worth it,” she said.

Arguments against tended to focus on the cost of the project and the city’s spending priorities.

John Morris raised several questions about costs associated with the aquatic center and the relationship between the city and the parks and rec district.

“Nothing has been said about operation and maintenance costs down the road when it’s built,” he told the Planning Commission.

Also on the City Council’s docket was a determination from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality that Green said provides a “permitting pathway” for a new wastewater treatment plant. He said the DEQ decision clears the way for the city to begin final design and construction of the new treatment plant, which will include a system for distributing reclaimed water to industrial and agricultural users.

In his remarks to the City Council, Green described the treatment plant, aquatic center and Kam Wah Chung projects as “once in a lifetime investments” that would pay benefits for the community for many years to come.

“I call them once in a lifetime because they really are once in a lifetime,” Green said.

“We have benefitted tremendously from the investments our parents and grandparents made, and it’s time for us to do the same.”

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