New developments are forcing a decision on the future of a public pool in Grant County, John Day City Manager Nick Green informed a crowded city council meeting March 26.
Several of the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department’s acquisition plans for 2019 fell through, so the state wants to move forward with its plans to purchase city parkland around the Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site along with the Gleason Pool and close the deal before July 1, Green said.
Green explained that the city council met in executive session with the John Day-Canyon City Parks and Recreation District to discuss pool issues. The city and the district will each appoint a person to lead negotiations with the state, he said.
Green noted that the city has not finalized a decision to sell the Gleason Pool nor approved a design for a replacement pool. The parks and recreation district could continue to operate the pool through the end of the 2020 season, he told the Eagle.
In preparation for the new pool and the city’s future integrated park system, the council authorized Green to submit an application to the state for a 2019 OPRD Large Grant.
The $653,453 grant would be used to pay for constructing a new parking lot on Northwest Bridge Street near a possible new pool site and grading a level pad for the new pool. Rights-of-way would be acquired for a trail connecting the new parking area to a trail network that will run along the John Day River.
Additional projects in the grant package would include building a bicycle-pedestrian bridge over the river at the new Hill Family City Park, developing trails in the new city park and constructing ADA-compatible restrooms and a drop-off parking lot at the north end of the bridge.
The city has accomplished several tasks that will help satisfy the grant requirements, Green said, including acquiring the Hill property for a new city park to replace the parkland that would be sold to the state and agreeing on a location for a new public pool. The Hill property acquisition would also count toward the 20 percent match required for the new grant, he said.
The parks and rec district last year purchased a 1-acre lot with a double-wide home on Northwest Bridge Street immediately west of its offices. The district’s enlarged property would provide space for a new parking lot for the public pool and count toward the match required for the state grant.
The $653,453 grant is separate from the revenue expected from the sale of the land to the state, Green told the Eagle. Two financial hurdles need to be addressed for a new public pool: construction and operating costs.
The lowest-cost design option is for a six-lane, 25-yard outdoor competition pool with locker rooms, offices, equipment rooms and other related building space costing about $4.5 million.
The city wants $1 million in grants and sales funds from the state through the sale of the park and pool land near Kam Wah Chung and will try to get another $1 million in grants from other sources, leaving about $2.5 million to pay for a new pool through a bond measure, Green said.
That figure could be further reduced to perhaps $2 million by using local contractors, city crews, county road department equipment and in-kind donations, he said. Green also noted that the county might be able to contribute funds it receives from the federal Secure Rural Schools program. The sunset of the Blue Mountain Hospital District bond in 2021 will reduce property taxes and might help a pool construction bond pass.
The suggested timeline calls for using seed money from the OPRD Large Grant to cover preliminary design costs for a new pool and preparing a ballot measure for a bond by the end of August. The bond measure would then go to the voters in November — preferably to include more than just John Day and Canyon City voters and perhaps even voters countywide.
If voters turn down the bond vote, the state might not provide grants for a new pool, Green said, but the city could include a “claw-back” provision allowing the city to “unwind” the Gleason Pool sale. Green also noted that, if the city doesn’t get the deal it wants from the state for the sale of the park and pool property, it won’t sign it.
The parks and recreation district has faced difficulties for years in operating and maintaining the Gleason Pool. Operating expenses for an outdoor pool could run about $100,000 per year, including setting aside money in a pool replacement fund, Green said.
Some of those expenses could be reduced by having a brand new pool that doesn’t leak and has fewer maintenance issues. Mayor Ron Lundbom said 40 percent of pool users don’t pay their fair share because they come from outside the district, which taxes residents for operating funds.
One option for addressing the pool’s operating and maintenance costs would be to increase the tax base by expanding the geographical size of the parks and recreation district to include possibly Prairie City, Mt. Vernon and Seneca. Voters would have to approve the expansion.
Green presented the council with three options for how a larger parks and recreation district could operate, but he noted that he doesn’t have a complete operations and maintenance strategy.
Andy Day asked if the city had ever paid to have a professional assessment to determine if Gleason Pool could keep operating. Dusty Williams said he spoke to parks and recreation district Executive Director Art Thunell and was told nobody from the city had checked out the pool’s condition.
Green conceded that a professional assessment has not been done and the city shouldn’t have said the pool could not be fixed, but he noted that such an assessment could be very expensive and was not included in this year’s budget.
Councilor Dave Holland explained that concrete has a limited lifetime and noted that the city spent significant time and money assessing the sewer treatment plant in an unsuccessful effort to salvage it. Green pointed out the economic development benefits of Gleason Pool being replaced by a Kam Wah Chung interpretive center that will attract tourists.
Dusty Williams advised caution: If the city sells the pool and the bond election fails, the city could end up with no pool. He cited the failure of the 911 local option tax election in November 2017 and personally noted that he would vote for a $2 million bond but not a $4.5 million bond.