Um, OK, about that pool …
Sorry, is it too soon to talk about this? Will there ever be a really good time?
Let’s hope so, because however you feel about the failed effort to create a Methow Aquatics District, the fundamental need behind that campaign remains, as it has for years: The Wagner Memorial Pool is on its last legs, which is an odd thing to say about a swimming facility but a useful cliché nonetheless. You can probably come up with your own.
After more than half a century, the pool leaks, needs constant repair and is beyond long-term rehabilitation. The Town of Twisp, which owns and operates the pool, has nearly exhausted the fund that was created decades ago to subsidize its operation. The town doesn’t have the resources to replace the pool, and shortly will run out of money to keep it open.
Despite its popularity, the pool has trouble every year finding adequate staffing to fill what are, at best, short-lived seasonal jobs. Had a qualified person not come along last summer to manage the pool, its waters would have stayed unruffled all summer.
That’s how tenuous the Wagner’s present and future are. There is a limited amount of time to come up with an alternative, assuming the community wants one.
Our reason for optimism is that almost no one disagrees that a new pool is necessary and desirable. How to take the next step — well, there’s the conundrum. A common, and fair, refrain during the contentious public exchanges leading up to the aquatics district defeat was, what’s your better idea?
If you are about to say, “fix the existing pool,” you are disqualified from the discussion. Beyond that, “where do we go from here” seems to be a wide-open field.
What’s clear is that however the need is resolved, lots of money will be required for even the most modest replacement, and more money will be needed beyond that to keep a new facility operating. There is no scenario under which a public pool will be self-supporting. It will be built with taxes, grants and/or donations (cash and in-kind), likely a cobbled-together amalgam of funding. We have models for that approach in this community, notably the Okanogan County Fire District 6 fire hall, the Winthrop Rink and the Winthrop library.
The idea of forming what’s called a metropolitan park district has been tried and rejected twice in the Methow Valley, and there doesn’t seem to be much community-wide support for that approach. Voters harbor too many uncertainties about how such a district would collect money and what would be done with it, under whose control.
Is it fair to again look to Friends of the Pool to provide leadership to develop Plan B (or however far into the alphabet we need to go)? One would not blame them for declining. The volunteer group worked hard for many years to not only keep the pool operating with donated funds, but also look to a future that included a pool the community can support and utilize, a commitment that will be hard to match. Who might then step forward?
Friends of the Pool secured funding to develop a strategy for replacing the Wagner, one that ultimately posited a more elaborate facility than many in the community were willing to contemplate. It could be argued that, despite its best intentions, Friends of the Pool got consulted into a corner. The options presented by the firm that was hired to make recommendations appeared extravagant at the upper end. The lowest estimated cost was more than the cost of the Twisp Civic Building, District 6 fire hall and Winthrop library combined.
As for the campaign in support of the aquatics district, there were confusing or seemingly mixed messages from the “pro” camp about how the tax revenues generated by a new district would be used, and about how governance would work. That was inadvertent rather than deliberate, but it had a clear influence on the outcome.
Much of the opposition to the aquatics district was more shrill and mean-spirited than it needed to be, attacking without suggesting other approaches. Having “won,” many of those voices may choose not to be part of future discussions. That would be unfortunate. We need all the community participation we can muster to re-start the dialog.
Most of us aren’t thinking about next summer as we adjust to winter. So if now isn’t the time, when will be? We are not far off from the day when the Wagner is a dry cement hole. What will we have to talk about then?