Many small rural communities across the United States deal with their aging public pools in a similar way — while the seasonal facilities present mounting operations and maintenance costs, and sometimes ongoing debt, residents and officials often are resigned to the notion that children need to learn how to swim and a place to go in summertime.
The solution for many of these communities is to fix leaks and replace boilers, pumps or other equipment and keep the pool running. But that option does not exist for the residents of Grant County — the Gleason Pool and adjacent city-owned property is likely to be sold to the state as part of a major improvement project for the nearby Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site.
Swimmers will have use of the Gleason Pool in John Day for only two more summers, City Manager Nick Green told city councilors at their Nov. 13 meeting.
Counsilman-Hunsaker, the consulting firm hired to develop options for a new facility, did not speak at the meeting, but they may present options at a special Dec. 4 meeting at the Grant County Regional Airport or at the council’s Dec. 11 meeting at the fire hall.
A steering committee representing the city of John Day, the Grant County Court, the John Day-Canyon City Parks and Recreation District, Blue Mountain Hospital and Grant School District 3 has been evaluating options presented by Counsilman-Hunsaker. While the city owns Gleason Pool, the recreation district currently manages the facility.
The city also has contacted Opsis Architecture of Portland to develop options for an indoor recreation space adjacent to the pool, Green told the council.
“They are defining program options for the types of rec spaces we could incorporate that would allow us to have year-round recreational opportunities,” Green said.
In addition to reviewing aquatics facilities in other Oregon communities, including Madras, the steering committee discussed four aquatic facility options and two site location options at its Nov. 8 meeting.
Possible sites include the west side of the Seventh Street Sports Complex and on the former Oregon Pine mill site north of the John Day River. Both sites could be accessed by the proposed Seventh Street extension, which would run west from the sports complex neighborhood through the proposed Innovation Gateway project to Patterson Bridge Road.
Options so far discussed by the steering committee range from an outdoor pool similar in size to the Gleason Pool to an indoor aquatics facility offering warm water and cold water pools, Green told the Eagle. Construction costs could range from $4 million to nearly $15 million depending on features. All options so far include a six-lane 25-yard pool with 3,670 square feet of deck space providing spectator seating for about 200 people.
“Not every option includes an indoor pool because of the expected operations and maintenance costs to operate a year-round facility,” Green told the Eagle. “Outdoor pools are far more affordable and a closer fit with our projected budget.”
The goal is to create year-round recreation opportunities that are affordable to build and maintain, Green said.
“Our guiding principle has been that we have to present a viable option to replace the current pool, not one that is too expensive to build or that we can’t afford to operate,” Green told the Eagle.
The steering committee and consultants, along with the city’s community advisory committee, will select one option that will be presented in a bond election to voters. Green told the Eagle that details on the bond request have not yet been developed, but he told the council that the city will need to make the “best pitch” possible to the public.
“We are working within a budget that would allow the capital cost of the facility to be bond-funded at or near our current tax rates (after the expiration of the hospital bond),” Green told the council. “The operating costs for the facility will vary depending on the size and types of amenities included and will be reviewed along with the capital costs.”
The pool decision should not interfere with plans to sell the Gleason Pool site and other city property near Kam Wah Chung to the state, Green told the council. He also noted that the new aquatic facility should be a county facility, not a city facility, a point Grant County Commissioner Rob Raschio has made in county court.
The city of John Day originally built the Gleason Pool and will receive about $1 million from the state from the sale of land adjoining Kam Wah Chung, so the city is leading the talks, Green said.
“The City is funding the feasibility study, but we do not intend to build or operate the new pool,” Green told the Eagle.
If voters approve a bond to pay for a new pool, the city plans to organize a representative board of elected officials from multiple jurisdictions to oversee its construction and operations, Green said.
“We are leading the facility planning because we currently own the only public pool in the county, but we are not set up to manage an aquatics facility or recreation center,” he told the Eagle. “We also view this as a shared asset. We can provide some funding to help kick-start the process and do our part to see it come to fruition, but 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.”
The 20-year bond measure for the Blue Mountain Hospital District will expire by 2021. Passed in September 2000 with a vote of 1,430-1,380, the $7 million hospital bond currently accounts for about 8.6 percent of property taxes in the county, according to the tax assessor’s office.
The combined share of property taxes from Grant School District 3 and the Grant County Education School District to support schools is 37.5 percent. There had been talk of Grant School District 3 seeking a bond to build a new junior-senior high school once the hospital bond expired, but the district has turned a corner on that idea, School Board Chairwoman Chris Cronin told the Eagle.
The reality is that the district could not tax itself enough to pay for a new school, and the current school will undergo a grant-funded seismic upgrade next year, she said. The district reached a consensus before former Superintendent Curt Shelley left to keep the facilities in as good a shape as possible rather than build a new school, Cronin said.
Cronin noted that the district recognizes the need for a new pool facility and will support a bond election if needed. She said she also sees the need for a therapy pool for older residents.