Friends of the Pool launched its “Big Splash” campaign for a new swimming pool Oct. 14 with a public meeting to gather input from the community.
Consultants hired by Friends of the Pool have begun a feasibility study to come up with proposals for building and funding a new swimming pool to replace the aging Ernest O. Wagner Memorial Pool in Twisp.
Ken Ballard of Ballard*King & Associates, a recreation consulting and planning firm based in Colorado, invited people at the Oct. 14 meeting in the Methow Valley Community Center to share their ideas about a future aquatics facility. The first phase of the feasibility study involves conducting a market analysis that looks at demographics of the Methow Valley and use of the existing pool, Ballard said.
Taking into consideration community input, consultants will consider potential amenities for the new facility and possible locations, and come up with a conceptual plan. They will develop information on construction and operating costs, and analyze how a special recreation district and partnerships could be used to fund a new pool facility, Ballard said.
A final report will be issued in April or May, but “we will come back several times…for community input,” Ballard said. The next opportunity for public comment will likely be in January or February, he said. “We’ll present what we’ve learned … develop some options, test those and get some input from you.”
The need for a year-round swimming pool was a common theme expressed at the community meeting. A year-round pool was also strongly supported in previous community surveys conducted by Friends of the Pool, a nonprofit organization that was formed to help fund the Wagner Memorial Pool and is now leading the effort to replace it with a new facility.
The pool, owned and operated by the Town of Twisp, is only open two-and-half months a year. This year it opened June 19 and closed for the summer about a month later due to unhealthy conditions caused by wildfire smoke.
An assessment of the Wagner Pool by an engineering firm two years ago concluded that the Wagner Pool, built in 1967, “has outlived its life,” and confirmed that replacing the pool was more cost-effective than repairing it, said Blue Bradley, a Friends of the Pool board member, at the meeting. Since 2005, Friends of the Pool has raised money and given more than $400,000 for pool repairs and operating expenses.
Friends of the Pool conducted small group listening sessions last fall, and “determined we needed more information,” Bradley said. A gift from an anonymous fund of the Philadelphia Foundation, which supports community-based philanthropic causes, enabled Friends of the Pool to hire consultants for the feasibility study.
In response to questions posed by Ballard, people at the meeting last week said they wanted a pool that supports swim team and swim lessons, water aerobics, lap swimming and recreational swimming year-round. Some proposed including other fitness and sports options, like tennis courts and a climbing wall, and on-site child care for people using the facility. A plan that provides for only a pool initially, but that would allow expansion to include other amenities, was also suggested.
A new pool should be located where it can be reached by walking, biking, or by bus, especially for children, community members said. Some said a new pool should remain in Twisp, because there are other recreational opportunities elsewhere in the valley.
Students from the Independent Learning Center presented information on a project they conducted to identify what teens need in the valley. After interviewing local teens, they found “an overwhelming need for a teen center.” A skate park was another popular idea among teens, they said. Ballard said that closing the Wagner Pool could potentially offer an opportunity to develop a skate park there.
Funding a new aquatics facility entails not only construction costs, but operating costs, Ballard said. One funding mechanism is a special recreation district that levies taxes to support the facility. Ballard*King will work with ECONorthwest, a finance, policy and planning firm, to evaluate that approach, Ballard said.
“There are about four different options [in Washington] to setting up a special recreation district,” he said. ECONorthwest will determine the “most appropriate.”
In 2014 a proposed recreation district to support recreation facilities valley-wide was turned down by voters. “I know that was proposed in the past and it wasn’t successful,” Ballard noted. “What would position this to have a positive vote this time?” he asked. Audience members didn’t provide an answer to the question.
Calculating operating costs for a year-round facility will take into consideration staffing, which has become increasingly challenging for all recreation facilities, Ballard said. The Town of Twisp has struggled in recent years to hire enough lifeguards — usually high school students — to allow the pool to operate.
“The ability to staff is a critical aspect … it’s an issue for retail establishments and others, but particularly difficult for recreation facilities,” Ballard said. “We will develop an operations budget with rates of compensation for staff – project out what it will require to operate the facility. It’s gone up dramatically just to get part-time staff and particularly lifeguards.”
There are many ways to design a pool to provide both indoor and outdoor swimming, including retractable roofs or large barn-type doors that open to the outside when weather permits, Ballard said. In the Methow Valley, which can expect to continue experiencing wildfires and smoke pollution, a good air-filtration system may be an important part of the design, he said.
Last week’s meeting was livestreamed, but a technical glitch meant the audio was not available to people watching remotely. A video of the meeting is now posted on the Friends of the Pool website, along with a questionnaire to fill out. Friends of the Pool will provide information and updates on the Big Splash project on the website. The meeting video and questionnaire are available at www.foptwisp.org.