By Julia Babkina
Fundraising phase is next for project
Friends of the Pool, the local nonprofit that is working to replace the 57-year-old Wagner Memorial Pool in Twisp, held a public meeting on Jan. 18 to present its latest findings on the project.
Ken Ballard, lead consultant of Denver-based recreation and aquatic planning firm Ballard*King and Associates that Friends of the Pool contracted with, said the project cost estimate to build a new pool is in the $20 million range. Several Friends of the Pool board members at the meeting cautioned this is a preliminary estimate as no plans have been developed beyond the pre-design phase.
Ray Johnston of Johnston Architects presented a pre-design plan for what an aquatic center might look like. There would be two pools — a 3,000-square-foot surface area recreational pool and a six-lane, 25-yard pool for competitive use. The recreation pool would be kept at a warmer temperature than the competition pool.
Ballard said the needs of competitive and recreational swimmers are incompatible in a single pool, not only because of water temperature needs, but also because starting block depth requirements for competitive swimmers, which could be 6 feet or more, are incompatible with aqua exercise classes, whose ideal depth is mid-chest, not to mention the needs of younger swimmers.
The facility would include a hot tub and an outdoor splash pad. A splash pad doesn’t require lifeguards or staffing and if placed outside the building, could be a free amenity to the public that could operate even if the pool were closed. The building would sit within 5 acres, comprise 19,600 square feet and have 150 parking spaces.
Diving is being considered, and the depth of the pool would be dictated by the length of the diving board, per code. Water polo could operate in the competition pool, but it would have to be built deeper than what is required for the swim team, said Bradley.
Johnston said the indoor pool could have insulated retracting garage doors that could open during the summer so that it felt more like an outdoor pool under a shade roof.
“It’ll also reduce operating costs for at least half of the year,” said Johnston.
“Swimming is the No. 4 most-popular sports activity in the U.S.,” said Ballard. “It serves the full age span, which is a unique characteristic of aquatic facilities.”
Currently, there is no indoor pool within 90 miles of Twisp, which would make such a facility attractive to the surrounding area, added Ballard.
Bo Thrasher, Friends of the Pool board member and assistant coach of the Methow Valley Killer Whales swim team, said an indoor pool would not only allow the 100-member swim team year-round access, it would also allow for expansion of the program. It would also serve adults who have expressed interest in swimming and workout sessions.
“We are trying to plan for the next 50 years,” said Blue Bradley, co-chair of Friends of the Pool.
Bradley said the board looked into making repairs to the existing pool, but the challenges of the existing pool outweighed the benefits.
“The current site is on a flood plain, there’s not enough parking, not enough space [to meet the demands of existing users] and the flow of the building is awkward,” said Bradley.
Board Chair Sarah Schrock said there were 5,400 visitors to the pool in the two and a half months the pool was open last summer. An indoor pool would not only allow year-round access, it would also allow the pool to remain open on summer days when there is poor air quality from wildfires.
Staying in Twisp
The nonprofit is looking at the possibility of purchasing the Lloyd property behind the former Blackbird Café site, which is already connected to town water and sewer, said Bradley. If that purchase falls through, there are other options, but the board has settled for the location to be in Twisp.
The nonprofit considered other locations, but settled on Twisp due to its more central location to Omak and Pateros and the amount of children who bike and walk to the existing pool.
“There are very limited camps for kids of all ages that parents can afford while they work in the summer so it actually is a pretty popular child care location,” said Bradley. “Kids walk there frequently and swim and it’s an equity thing to have it in Twisp.”
Bradley said board members met with school board members and the school superintendent twice about building the pool closer to the school, but school officials nixed that idea due to safety concerns. However, the school district said it would provide transportation to kids to the pool and possibly have a swim team through the school at this site, according to Bradley.
The board contacted the YMCA about building a pool in the Methow, but they declined due to the small population, according to Bradley.
Ballard projects operating costs to be $850,000 and pool revenues $350,000 per year. He said an operating shortfall for an aquatic center is typical, even in large metropolitan areas. The operating costs would include three full-time staff.
Per the Friends of the Pool’s website, the board considered including a multi-purpose workout room and recreational center type amenities that would bring in revenue but cost little to maintain, thereby helping to offset operating costs. However, given the additional capital expense, they decided to focus on building the aquatic center first.
With the 15-month long feasibility study complete, Friends of the Pool now embarks upon applying for grant, foundation, state and federal funds as well as approaching potential donors to complete the project. They are also exploring the creation of a Metropolitan Park District, which would implement a tax, based on the boundaries of the Methow Valley School District, to support the operational and/or capital costs of the aquatic center.
The Wagner Fund has paid for the annual operating costs of the pool since its founding in 1966. After 57 years, that endowment is drying up. Friends of the Pool, since its founding in 2005, has raised almost $400,000 to pay for repairs and other needs to keep the pool open.