With the Gleason Pool expected to close after two more seasons, local officials continue to look at options — from construction to financing.
The city of John Day expects to sell city park land surrounding the Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site to the state for development of a new interpretative center. That includes the pool.
John Day City Council met with John Day-Canyon City Parks & Recreation District Executive Director Art Thunell and board member Zach Williams March 1 to discuss the options.
Williams started by asking if it was possible to sell some city park land to the state and hold onto the pool. John Day City Manager Nick Green said a sale agreement had not been finalized, but several councilors explained they had been told the pool had outlived its useful life and was not salvageable.
The city has hired Counsilman-Hunsaker and Opsis Architecture to provide design options. Cost estimates and rough designs presented Feb. 28 by Opsis include an outdoor competition pool with an indoor gymnasium. Construction costs ranged from $10-14 million for three designs.
Those costs could be significantly reduced by phasing construction. An outdoor pool and associated buildings could be built first, and a gym could be added later. Previous estimates for a facility similar to the current Gleason Pool ranged around $4.3 million.
Green noted, while operation and maintenance costs are higher when a gym is open year-round, young children and seniors need a place to go in winter when sidewalks are covered with snow and ice. He also said a gym could provide year-round revenue, and the Parks & Recreation District could also use the facility for its administrative offices.
Consultants involved in planning for development of the John Day River area and the former Oregon Pine mill site into the John Day Innovation Gateway have indicated three possible locations for a new pool.
The city councilors indicated their preference for locating the pool at the Seventh Street Complex rather than the closed mill site, and Thunell said locating the pool at the north fields of the sports complex would work.
Green estimated the city will receive about $1 million from the state from the sale of city park land adjacent to Kam Wah Chung and could apply for about $1 million in grants to pay for a new pool.
The remainder of the estimated cost for a $4.3 million outdoor pool facility could come from a bond presented to the voters in November. Some site-development and construction costs also could be reduced by in-kind labor and equipment contributions.
The city of John Day and the Parks & Recreation District are too small to support a bond of that size, Green said. He suggested approaching the Grant County Court about calling for a countywide bond election or creating a new district that would encompass Mt. Vernon and Prairie City and possibly Seneca and Dayville. A specific request about a pool bond had not been made to the county court, he said.
Green also noted Dayville will hold a school bond election this year and that some Grant County communities are too far away to make use of a pool in John Day. These more distant communities also lack a sizeable tax base to significantly support a bond election, he said.
If the Parks & Recreation District is expanded, then its crews will have to take over maintenance of city parks in those cities, Williams said.
While the pool bond would be about half the size of the current hospital bond, which will expire by 2021, the Parks & Recreation District tax base is about half the size of the hospital bond’s tax base, Green said. As a result, the impact on district taxpayers could be about the same.
The window for a bond election is narrowing, Green said. The city plans to submit an application for a $750,000 state grant by April 1, and the council could reach a decision on pool construction phasing, expanding the tax base and whether to hold bond election this year at its March 26 meeting.
Williams said he couldn’t speak for the Parks & Recreation District board, but he thought the council’s direction made sense. He said the board would begin working on a presentation to make to the county court.
John Day residents have borne the cost of the pool, 911 and other countywide services and it was time for the rest of the county to step up, Green said. Residents need to invest in their community, and the bond election should be seen as a positive thing, he said. However, if voters turn down a bond for a new pool, then the city will move on to other projects, he said.