Aged, heavily used facility ‘well past its useful life’
Town officials and pool supporters agree: The Wagner Memorial Pool in Twisp is near the end of its useful life, if not already past the end.
Supporters of the pool are spearheading an effort to revisit a long-term funding solution like one that was tried — and that failed badly — five years ago.
Sarah Schrock, board president of Friends of the Pool, said recent discussions with select community leaders have led pool supporters to conclude that the best way to secure long-term funding for the pool might be a recreation district.
People who want a long-term funding solution for the pool are asked to attend a public meeting at 5:30 p.m. next Thursday (May 30), at the Winthrop Rink.
The meeting will be an opportunity to talk about what went wrong in 2014, when a ballot measure that would have created a valley Metropolitan Park District to fund the pool, the rink and other recreational opportunities was rejected, 78% to 22%.
This time around, Schrock said, “we need to get the messaging right.”
Pool backers also need to figure out what type of recreation district to propose. The Metropolitan Park District was widely criticized in the leadup to the 2014 election. This type of district has the authority to levy a property tax of up to 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed value ($225 per year on a $300,000 home) and buy private property from unwilling sellers using eminent domain.
While candidates for the commission that would run the district said that they wouldn’t use eminent domain or collect taxes anywhere near the maximum allowed amount, some residents remained skeptical of another layer of government that they said had too much power.
Campaign organizers at that time had originally intended to put a different type of district on the ballot, called a park and recreation district, which has less taxing authority and no power of eminent domain. That type of district, however, would need to pass through the Board of Okanogan County Commissioners, which would have the authority to change its boundaries before putting it on the ballot.
The long-term plan to secure funding for the pool is in the early stages. For now, Friends of the Pool seeks a consultant to develop what Schrock called a “situation assessment” that would outline the current condition of the pool and what a new pool should look like. The town’s Parks and Recreation Commission, which advises the Town Council, likely would be used to gather input from the community about a new pool, said Schrock, who is also on the commission.
Also in the short term, Friends of the Pool will continue to raise funds to keep the pool operating, even as the group concedes the pool needs to be replaced.
“It serves a huge range of users. It’s the only thing we have right now,” Schrock said. “We have to continue to support it beyond what the town can do, so we continue to fundraise even if it is money down the drain.”
The dire state of the pool became clear in 2016, when a $189,000 renovation of the pool’s deck and shell to plug leaks proved to be only a partial fix. After the pool’s recirculation system was turned back on, officials noticed the pool was still losing water.
Cracks have continued to appear in the pool’s shell during the offseason. Water collecting under the pool from a persistent leak contracts and expands with the change of seasons, Twisp Public Works Director Andrew Denham said.
“The under-drain system must be continuing to leak,” Denham said. “It’s compromised the foundation underneath the pool.”
The 53-year-old pool, Denham added, “is well past its useful life.”
WMS Aquatics, the contractor that made the 2016 repairs, returned in 2018 to fix the new cracks, then billed the town $8,900 for work Denham thought should have been under warranty. Town officials were able to negotiate the final bill down by half, but WMS had made it clear there would be no discounts in the future, Denham said.
The public works director is sending his own crew out this month to repair the latest cracks, which are worse than they were last year. The cracks are as much as three-quarters of an inch wide, Denham said.
“What they repaired [in 2018] moved and cracked again, so we will repair what they repaired last year and more,” Denham told the Town Council on May 14.
“We will hold this pool together — every year, if possible — as long as it makes sense, until the community can support the construction of a new pool,” Denham said in an interview after the meeting.
This year’s repairs should be completed by the end of May, Denham said, before practices start for the Methow Valley Killer Whales swim team. The pool is expected to open to the public as usual on the Saturday after the last day of school (June 15).