Position Paper on Swimming Pools
Judy Mayne, WECRD Director
From the time of the Blue Ribbon Committee, the public was led to believe that a swimming pool(s) would be part of a recreation facility in Mountain Home. However, during the Community Leadership Development Committee (CLDC) process, the YMCA made it clear. Our community “did not have enough rooftops or a high enough median income to build a facility with a pool (s)”. The “facility would have to be built in phases and as the community grows, a pool might be added in (Phase II). The YMCA staff was clear, a pool gets people excited (people love pools!), but the fitness facility keeps people
coming and paying monthly dues. The YMCA facility that was contracted did not have a pool.
The YMCA estimated that Phase I, a fitness center with cardio equipment and weights, exercise/class space and a gym, would cost about $5 million to build and would require 700 memberships (paying full monthly fees) and $590,000/year to operate – that’s ($1,616/day). They estimated that $340,000 would come from memberships/programs and $250,000 would need to come from the WECRD tax revenue – more than half of the maximum tax revenue. An $850,000 Capital Campaign was also required.
The YMCA estimated that Phase II – adding pool(s), would take another $5 million and require an additional $700,000/year to operate. That’s $1,918/day to operate just the pool(s). So if both phases were completed, it would cost $1,290,000/year to operate – that’s $3,534 per day.
Research into other pools – Over the last 6-7 years, I have talked to people operating swimming pools and other recreation facilities and visited numerous facilities. Here is a synopsis of my visits:
Mountain Home Parks and Recreation (Stan Franks) (1 outdoor pool – open summer only) – Operational Costs are about $1,000/day. Covering the pool and operating it year round would leave little or nothing for other programs. Most of the pool personnel are teens who return to high school or college. Few would be available year round. The city was criticized by some for increasing fees from $1 to $2 in 2016.
Magic Valley YMCA Pools (3 pools in Twin Falls – 1 large pool that is covered for 9 months then uncovered during the summer; 2 smaller indoor pools) – The pool manager was clear – “Pools are seasonal and expensive to operate” – about 65% of the usage for their pools is in the 3 months of summer; only 35% of the usage is in the other 9 months. The cost to maintain the pools remains about the same year round, despite decreased use.
Caldwell Family YMCA – Visited this facility as part of the CLDC. Huge capital campaign effort required to build. Annual fundraising needed to subsidize it. Caldwell population is significantly larger than Mountain Home and is rapidly growing. A number of large, local businesses actively and financially supported the initial and ongoing capital campaign.
Ketchum YMCA – $28 million capital campaign to build – no tax dollars were used. However, a prime piece of downtown real estate was donated by the city on a long term lease for a nominal annual fee. We visited in about Aug-Sept., 2011 and received a personal tour by Mike, a YMCA employee who had been involved with the project for years. He was now in charge of fund raising and provided great insight. This unique, beautiful facility has multiple aquatic features. Mike was preparing for his 5th major fundraiser of the year.
Blaine County Recreation District (BCRD) (1 outdoor pool open summer only) – Jim Keating, the BCRD director, runs the largest recreation district in Idaho (based on tax dollars collected/year). They have not built a facility but have joined efforts with the local school district to use approximately 30% of the former high school building, including the gym/locker area. They have renovated parts of their section of the building and this arrangement is working well. The school distict owns the building and the BCRD and College of Southern Idaho have a joint use agreement. They share maintenance expenses and
utilities. Jim was clear – “Pools do not cash flow”. Personnel costs are the biggest expense. Private pools have different safety requirements; public entities are held to a higher standard. If a tragedy occurs and the city or government entity failed to meet lifeguard/swimmer ratios or other requirements, the cost to the taxpayers can be substantial. They have done some nice updates on their pool but have no plans to expand the use beyond the summer months.
Mountain Home AFB (1 year-round indoor pool) – (A study conducted during the CLDC showed that over 60% of district residents had access to the base and its facilities. I am retired AF and have personally used this pool many times.) The pool offers free lap swimming for active duty members during specific hours; cost is $2 for non-active duty (family members, retirees, civilians). Currently only lap swimming and recreational swimming are offered regularly. Water aerobics is not offered at this time. Swim lessons are offered, but mostly in the summer months. Kayaking classes are offered 2-4x/mo. “Family Splash and Plunge Nights” are offered about 2x/mo.
Multiple discussions with key staff members over the years and my own observations and experience indicate that this great facility gets minimal usage. (I’ve rarely seen the sign in sheet with 1 full page of 25 participants.) Early morning is the busiest time with mostly active duty lap swimmers. (At $2 per paying customer and many using the facility for free, the amount generated would cover very little of the operational costs.) I took a fun kayaking class recently and was 1 of 4 participants, though I was told the class is busier in the spring and summer. I love water aerobics and they used to offer 2 classes, but not anymore. Most of the time I was the only person for a daytime water aerobics class and never attended a base offered class larger than 4 people total. I was told that an early evening class had better attendance. In the fall of 2015, Parks and Rec. offered a water aerobics class at the base pool that was well received with about 28 signed up and 20 or so attending most sessions. Unfortunately, the class sessions were cut short when funding became available for a renovation project and the pool was closed for several months.
Southern Valley County Recreation District (SVCRD) (Cascade – Fitness Center and 2 outdoor pools with an inflatable, removable cover) – On August 22, 2016, I visited the SVCRD in Cascade, which is located in the West Central Mountains – “Idaho’s Adventure Corridor”. The area is a haven for outdoor adventure enthusiasts and tourists who enjoy pristine mountains, rivers, lakes, and wildlife. Cascade is part of a collection of communities including McCall, Donnelly, Meadows Valley, and New Meadows, known as Valley County/Meadows Valley (total population 10,800), which is currently competing in “America’s Best Communities” as one of the 8 finalists out of 138 communities nation-wide vying for the $3 million
I had a tour and in depth visit with the SVCRD Board President, Bob Zach. The Cascade Swimming Pool Association was formed in 1983. They raised about $40,000 which was kept by city of Cascade in trust. (The SVCRD was able to claim this money plus the accrued interest (about $53,000) about 6 months ago when the SVCRD began facility construction.)
The SVCRD was created in 1998. Their method of taxation is a household fee, not a mil levy. They collect $233,000/year ($85.18/household/year). Cascade had no public pool and the closest one was 70 miles away. It had no local fitness business (“gym”) until the SVCRD rented space and started Fitness Express, a fee based fitness facility, and provided the staff and cardio/fitness equipment as well as fitness classes.
In 2014, the SVCRD purchased 4 acres of land (next to Kelly’s Whitewater Park) that was part of a 100 acre parcel formerly owned by Boise-Cascade (used as a mill site) for $200,000. It included a geothermal well that draws water from a natural artesian hot spring. They installed a new liner in the well. Well testing over a 2 week period confirmed a temperature of over 103 degrees and flow rate of 400 gallons/minute. “Geothermal makes this project possible!” said Bob Zach multiple times. This natural hot water provides a very low cost way to heat the building, the pools, and the sidewalks and handicapped parking spaces. Propane will be used for back-up. They are located in a prime spot across the parking lot from Kelly’s Whitewater Park, a recreation and a venue for hosting competitive events, such as, the National Kayak Championships.
The SVCRD conducted and accomplished a successful $2.2 million Capital Campaign in support of this project. When the facility was initially bid in August/September, 2014, the bids came back higher than expected (between approximately $4-6 million, well over budget). No bid was accepted.
Using a construction management approach rather than a general contractor, building costs were cut dramatically by using his cost saving suggestions, such as, standard trusses and other “off the shelf” sized key items. They also cut costs by simplifying the building design and making major changes. The pools were moved to the outside and a removable, inflatable cover was purchased to allow year round use. The size of the single story facility went from 10,000 sq. ft. to 7,000 sq. ft. The new design and pitch of the roof allowed for creation of an unfinished 2nd floor. This gives them 1,500 sq. ft. of usable space to finish, 1,800 sq. ft. of storage space and a large mechanical room. Security cameras are in use (purchased from Costco). There is no gymnasium (i.e., basketball courts) or child care/child watch services offered or planned.
I love to swim and value what private and public pools offer individuals, families, and communities. My family and I are big fans of our community pool. I participate in water aerobics 3-4 days/week with my daughter and friends. It’s great! My 3 grandchildren take swim lessons throughout the summer and every year we rent the pool for a summer birthday party. WE LOVE the POOL!
When I first began researching pools I supported a year-round pool for Mountain Home. I couldn’t understand why Stan Franks and some others said it would not work. As I became more educated on the actual costs involved in building and maintaining pools, and the patterns of use, reality sunk in and I came to the conclusion that, as much as people love the concept, this is not feasible for our community.
Pool use is seasonal for most people. The high cost to operate a pool for an additional 9 months for a limited number of people is prohibitive. In addition, the population of Mountain Home and Elmore County is decreasing. The median income is less than the state average while the poverty level is higher than the state average. Pursing this unrealistic dream of a year-round pool prevents the WECRD and the City from offering other types of recreational opportunities and facilities that benefit our community and are far less expensive to build and maintain. We have an aging public pool and efforts need to be put into assessing options to preserve this important community resource.