Community responds to consultant’s proposals
When consultants presented alternatives for a new swimming pool in the Methow Valley to community members at a recent meeting, the community’s response was loud and clear.
“We clearly hear indoor pool,” said Ken Ballard of Ballard*King Associates, the consultant leading a feasibility study for a new pool in the Methow Valley. The new facility would replace the aging Wagner Memorial Pool in Twisp.
In the online public forum in late March, three alternatives for a new pool facility developed by consultants were presented for consideration. About 40 people attended the Zoom presentation hosted by Friends of the Pool, which is spearheading a campaign to replace the swimming pool in Twisp that is only open in summer and is in frequent need of repairs.
Alternative A proposed an outdoor, seasonal facility with a six-lane, 25-yard competitive swimming pool and an attached recreational swimming area. Consultants said that facility could be enclosed in the future.
Alternative B included the same-sized competitive pool and recreational swimming area in an enclosed building for year-round use. Alternative C included the same-sized competitive pool, with a larger recreational pool and the addition of a therapy pool in an enclosed building. Among the people attending and commenting at the Zoom meeting, no one expressed support for the outdoor pool option.
“It’s becoming clearly apparent that people want indoor water,” said Ballard. With that feedback, the consultants will work on refining plans for an indoor swimming pool facility, identifying where it might be located in the valley, and developing options for funding it, he said.
Friends of the Pool will provide further community input to help the consultants in their work, said board member Bo Thrasher.
“Our next steps are to meet with our stakeholders and discuss the comments and preferences we received from our Zoom meeting. We will also be working on a site, and will be pursuing different options that we have in that area. We will also be discussing the possibility of a parks and recreation district in some fashion to help support this pool,” Thrasher said.
The two indoor pool alternatives that were preferred by people attending the online forum each provide for a six-lane, 25-yard competitive pool, with recreational swimming areas attached. Alternative B alternative included a 3,000-square-foot recreational pool attached to the competitive pool. Alternative C included a 4,500-square-foot recreational pool attached to the competitive pool, as well as a separate 3,000-square-foot pool that would have warmer water for therapeutic use.
The cost of building and operating an indoor pool would be significantly higher than an outdoor pool that is open only during a few months in summer, Ballard said.
“When you go from outdoor seasonal to indoor year-round, the costs go up dramatically,” he said. Estimates for the indoor pools were based on 50 weeks a year of operations, Ballard said.
Consultants developed preliminary cost estimates that include annual operating costs such as heating and cooling the buildings and staffing costs, including lifeguards. Pool facilities generally operate at a deficit, and the cost estimates calculate the revenue versus the shortfall in operating costs, Ballard said.
The outdoor, seasonal pool option (Alternative A) was projected to have a capital cost range of $6.8 million to $11.8 million. The annual operational shortfall was projected to be $75,000-$125,000.
Consultants projected the less-expensive indoor pool option (Alternative B) to have a capital cost range of $9.8 million to $18.4 million.” The annual operational shortfall would be $550,000-$625,000.
The larger, more-expensive indoor pool alternative (Alternative C) was projected to have capital costs ranging from $17.9 million to $24.3 million. The annual operational shortfall would range from $650,000 to $725,000, consultants said.
All of the alternatives include an office and lifeguard room, a multi-purpose or party room, lockers and changing areas, a mechanical room, and storage areas. The projected capital costs would vary for each alternative “depending on customization” such as paved versus gravel parking, landscaping, type of enclosure, and amenities.
The recreational pool could include a variety of amenities such as water slides, lazy rivers and wading pools, consultants said. None of the alternatives included “dry side amenities” such as sport courts or gyms.
“The focus of the facility is aquatics-based. The feeling was that needs to be the focus of this phase,” Ballard said. “Obviously the more amenities we have, the price tag goes up.”
Because pools are finding it increasingly difficult to hire and keep lifeguards, consultants said operating cost projections factor in a pay scale designed to attract and retain guards. “Lifeguarding is now a major issue everywhere in the country,” Ballard said.
The operational costs are based on a preliminary fee structure for pool users that includes day passes of $6 for adults and $4 for children, and annual passes of $300 for adults and $500 for households. “None of that is absolute,” Ballard said.
The capital costs do not include land acquisition, consultants noted. Ray Johnston of Johnston Architects, who is participating in the feasibility study, said development costs such as roads and utilities would be affected by the site. Each of the options would fit on a 2.5-acre site, he said. The Wagner Memorial Pool in Twisp is on about 1.5-2 acres of land, he said.
Identifying a site will be among the next steps in the planning process, and consultants said properties that are “in public ownership already” will be the most desirable to reduce acquisition costs.
A question was posed by a meeting attendee about locating the pool on the Methow Valley School District property between Twisp and Winthrop. Sarah Schrock, Friends of the Pool president, said the location is “inaccessible to people by bicycle or foot” and Friends of the Pool has not “been aggressively pursuing” that option.
Consultants conducted a market analysis of the Methow Valley that identified “opportunities” for developing a pool that included the fact that there is no indoor public pool within 90 miles of the valley; the need to replace the existing pool; and the role of second-home owners and visitors in supporting a pool.
“Constraints” on developing a new pool identified in the market analysis include the valley’s small permanent population; the existence of outdoor pools in other nearby communities; the valley’s lower income and aging population base; and the fact that an aquatics facility will not be able to cover costs of operation.
Ballard said the consultants are about halfway through the feasibility study process, and will be analyzing options for capital development and operating costs as the process goes forward.
Ballard*King consultants are working with a ECONorthwest, a finance, policy and planning firm, to evaluate the feasibility of establishing a special recreation district — based on the Methow Valley School District boundaries — that would have the ability to bond to build a facility, and to levy property taxes to support its operations.
Other income sources, including fundraising and grants, could help finance construction of a new facility, Ballard said. “We will do more work on developing a preferred option … then refine funding options,” he said.
The online presentation is available on the Friends of the Pool website, foptwisp.org, on the Events-Community Meetings” page. A feedback form is also available there and Schrock urged people to complete and submit it.
Friends of the Pool was formed in 2005 to support the Wagner Memorial Pool, which is owned and operated by the Town of Twisp, but is used by residents from throughout the Methow Valley and visitors. Over the years the nonprofit group has raised and given more than $400,000 for pool repairs and operating expenses.
After a pool engineering firm determined that it would cost more to repair the 55-year-old pool than it would to replace it, Friends of the Pool began hosting meetings in 2020 with valley residents to explore ideas for a new pool.
A gift from an anonymous fund of the Philadelphia Foundation, which supports community-based philanthropic causes, enabled Friends of the Pool to hire Ballard*King, a Colorado-based recreation consulting and planning firm, last year to conduct the feasibility study on building and funding a new swimming pool facility.