Operation and maintenance costs for an indoor swimming pool could exceed the financial capabilities of every public agency in Grant County except the county and the hospital.

John Day City Manager Nick Green presented those hard facts to the city council on Dec. 11. He cited the Madras Aquatic Center as a case in point — annual operations and maintenance there cost $1.5 million.

The city plans to close the Gleason Pool after the 2020 season and sell the land to the state for development of the Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site.

The reasoning includes three key elements: The Gleason Pool is 60 years old and expensive to maintain; the state will pay the city $1 million for the land, a windfall that can be used to build another pool facility; and the state will use the land to build an interpretative center that will significantly contribute to the economic development of the John Day area.

“We recognize it is not popular to talk about closing a pool,” Green said. “Many residents have contacted city councilors and staff to express their interest in maintaining a pool in Grant County.”

The current pool-operating contract with the John Day-Canyon City Parks & Recreation District terminates at the end of the 2020 season. According to Green, the district has operated at a loss each year, spending $47,710 last year on labor, operations and maintenance and receiving $23,886 in revenue. The pool lost $2,500 per week in its 10 1/2-week season, Green said.

“The city does not have a tax base to operate a pool and could not create a revenue stream within our existing budget large enough to continue its operations,” Green said.

To investigate its options, the city hired consultants Counsil Hunsaker, Walker Macy and Opsis Architecture, but the results have not been straightforward.

“It has been incredibly challenging to find the optimal balance between our consultant’s projected costs (both capital and operations) and our anticipated program revenue,” Green said.

At the high end, an indoor competition pool with a recreation pool attached, along with recreation amenities, could cost $15 million to build and $800,000 to $900,000 per year to operate and maintain. A scaled-down indoor pool could cost $9.7 million to build and $500,000 to $600,000 annually to operate and maintain.

Costs come down dramatically for an outdoor pool. At the high end, a competition pool with a 3,152-square-foot recreation pool attached could cost $7.2 million to build. An outdoor pool slightly larger than the Gleason Pool could cost $4.3 million to build.

Operation and maintenance costs for an outdoor pool depend on the length of the season — an extended season drives up costs for heating and labor. With insurance and other benefits, five full-time employees can cost $300,000 over a full year, Green said.

Another option under consideration is combining a baseline outdoor pool with an indoor recreation facility that could include a gymnasium with two basketball courts, exercise amenities and a playground. That plan could cost $9 million to $10 million to build, which is close to the cost of the hospital bond that will end in 2020, Green noted.

A steering committee has been involved in every aspect of planning since the beginning, Green said. The committee includes representatives from the city of John Day, Grant County Court, John Day-Canyon City Parks & Recreation District, Blue Mountain Hospital District and Grant School District 3.

“John Day is funding the facility study and has spent $16,575 on consulting fees to date, but we do not intend to build or operate the new pool,” Green said.

The city’s goal is to establish a county-wide agency to design, build, finance, operate and maintain the facility. A memorandum of understanding between the five agencies represented by the steering committee has been drafted and is undergoing review by attorneys.

He said he has asked the participating public agencies to provide their staff with annual memberships to help establish a revenue stream to whichever facility is built.

Green noted that “if there is to be a pool and recreation center in Grant County after 2020, it will be because the voters approved it and we have a representative public body to oversee its operations.”

Richard Hanners is a reporter for the Blue Mountain Eagle. He can be contacted at rick@bmeagle.com or 541-575-0710.

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