Opinions were split about evenly over the future of a public swimming pool in Grant County during a meeting hosted and moderated by the John Day swim team.
Roughly 40 people attended the April 2 meeting at the Grant County Regional Airport. Pool manager and swim team coach Sabrina Howard and swim team representative Haley Walker moderated the meeting as a neutral party.
With negotiations between John Day and the state Department of Parks and Recreation for the sale of Gleason Pool and four acres of adjacent city parkland already underway, the public pool may cease to operate after the 2020 season.
Representatives from five stakeholder organizations also attended the meeting. Walker said the stakeholders have worked on the pool issue for about six months, but the only decision that had been reached so far was in favor of the most affordable option — a six-lane outdoor pool.
John Day City Manager Nick Green noted that the city and the John Day-Canyon City Parks and Recreation District have agreed on a site for a new pool — the upper northwest fields at the Seventh Street Complex. He said it was a logical site choice — out of the floodplain, near the Parks & Rec offices with beautiful views of the mountains to the south.
Green also said, when the city purchased land from the Hill family for a new city park, it signed an agreement saying it would hold money from the sale of Gleason Pool and the adjacent parkland for five years and dedicate it for a new pool.
The new pool will provide six lanes for competitive swimming. Walker said the narrower five-lane configuration at Gleason Pool poses safety issues during warm-up times prior to swim meets.
At 61 years old this season, Gleason Pool is the second oldest public pool in Oregon. John Day City Councilor Dave Holland, the city’s public works director in the past, said fixing the pool would be difficult.
Supply and drain pipes were likely steel or galvanized steel, with a typical lifetime of 10-30 years, Holland said. To replace rusted-out pipes, concrete decking and even the pool bottom would need to be demolished. Some pipes also were under the pool buildings, he said.
The target figures are $4.5 million for construction of a new pool and about $100,000 per year for operation, maintenance and a future pool replacement fund, Walker said. A countywide bond measure is being considered to pay for building a new pool, while stakeholders are discussing ways to come up with the annual funding, she said.
Green said the city has already spent money on consultants for design alternatives and to acquire new parkland. He said he looked at federal grant sources to help bring down a potential bond figure, but federal grants for public pools are typically limited to those connected with a senior center or intended for tourists, he said. That leaves the state as the primary avenue for grant funding, he said.
Initial talks with the state over the land sale have focused on establishing the value of the Gleason Pool and city parkland, Green said. While the state has regulations limiting what they could pay for land, the sales money could be used as a match for future state grants.
John Day Mayor Ron Lundbom noted that any “kicker” provided by the state in the sale negotiations could be lost if a bond election fails. He called the negotiations “very complicated.”
Grant School District 3 Superintendent Bret Uptmor said the school board has ruled out seeking a bond to build a new high school. The board wants to use remodeling and infrastructure updates to keep existing buildings in good shape.
But speaking as an individual and as a school superintendent, Uptmor expressed support for a public pool in Grant County. He noted that Ontario, where he worked in the past, closed its public pool six years ago, which was a major setback for the community.
Walker noted that when the hospital bond sunsets in 2021, taxpayers could pay a smaller bond for a pool and pay less taxes overall.
One option raised as a way to increase revenue to meet annual operating costs was to expand the Parks & Rec district to include Mt. Vernon and Prairie City. Board member Lisa Weigum, however, said the Parks & Rec board was definitely opposed to that idea.
Green said, if the pool remains open after the 2020 season, the city would need to consider a local option levy to pay for operations and maintenance. City taxpayers would end up paying to run the pool, he said.
Lundbom expressed his concern that so many people want a pool but John Day could end up paying for it. About 40 percent of the Gleason Pool use has been by people from outside the city who basically swim for free, he said.
The city also carried the burden for 911 dispatch and other services for too long, Lundbom said. Why is John Day responsible for providing a public pool for the rest of the county, he asked. It was time for the county to step up and support a new pool, he said.
Blue Mountain Hospital District board member Levi Manitsas said the board is discussing ways it can support a public pool, which provides a healthy activity. The hospital is one of the largest employers in the county, he said, and one option was to purchase annual pool passes for all of its employees.
Walker said the pool issue is not just about the swim team, instead providing a healthy environment for the entire community. Weigum agreed, noting that the Parks & Rec district offered programs for adults, including aerobics and lap swimming. Howard said plans were being made to expand pool hours into the evening to accommodate more adults.
Howard also said a public pool enables teaching a needed life skill — how to swim. Several audience members echoed that point, as did Grant County Commissioner Sam Palmer, speaking as a stakeholder representing the county court. Weigum noted that Parks & Rec often waives fees for children who live outside the district and those in need.
A simple conceptual drawing of a six-lane outdoor pool with an attached gym featuring two basketball courts puzzled a woman in the audience. She said she thought the meeting was about a swimming pool.
Weigum explained that a shortage of gym space exists in the county, which impacts adults who want to walk in winter. Lundbom noted that Parks & Rec could make money selling gym space in winter. He added that he was the “last to cave” on the idea of building an indoor pool.
Walker pointed out that the only addition to the existing Gleason Pool facility in the conceptual drawing was a “party room,” which could be rented out. She also said the meeting was about a public pool, not a gym.
Palmer said public input over the pool’s future seemed equally divided, with nothing in the middle. He encouraged the public to speak with county court members and provide more input on the matter.