Council tables pool decision, concerns raised on priorities

The Sweet Home City Council tabled a resolution that would commit the City of Sweet Home to paying half the costs for operation and maintenance of a new pool.

A new pool is proposed in a $21.5 million School District 55 bond measure, set for a May election. The School Board agreed to include the pool in the proposed bond election only if the City of Sweet Home would agree to pick up half the cost of operation maintenance.

Otherwise, the School Board would request $19 million from property owners to pay for various projects, including the reconstruction of major portions of the high school for $11 million. The bond would include about $300,000 in renovations for the existing pool. Construction of the new pool would be approximately $2.8 million.

An architect and staff estimated that operation and maintenance of the new pool would cost approximately $150,000 for each agency after user fees. Proponents expect to recoup approximately 30 percent of the operating costs of the new pool through fees. Should the bond be approved by voters, city staff anticipate completion of the new structure and expenses occurring in 2003.

The pool currently operates on about $150,000 per year, although a firm figure is difficult to track because utilities are metered with the rest of Sweet Home High School. Cost recovery at this point is estimated at about 19 percent, according to proponents.

“I have a little bit of concern about this,” Councilman Dick Hill said during the Dec. 13 council meeting. “It’s a small percent of the community that uses this pool.”

The pool has 125 card holders, Hill said. Two weeks prior to that meeting the council was talking about drainage, water and sewer needs and how difficult it was to provide money to repair and improve them.

“I don’t think that all that may people use that,” Councilman Robert G. Danielson said. He suggested that if 10 persons on the street were asked, there would be “one out of 50” who use the pool.

Hill referred to testimony from a person in the Strawberry Heights area about the inadequacy of the sewer system in that area.

“Where’s the money going to come from to serve 1 percent of our constituents,” Hill said. “Now we’re saying it’s all right to say we’re going to take out $150,000 and sink it into the pool when last week I couldn’t get $30,000 to fix the drainage. I have sewers backing up in Mr. Ramey’s house and yet you’re asking me to invest $150,000 into this pool.”

Pool usage records show tens of thousands of uses per year, but those count each time the pool is used not the number of persons who use the pool, Hill said.

The pool is old, worn out and has numerous problems, Councilman Jim Bean said. With better facilities, Sweet Home could host large meets.

“The need’s there for a good swimming pool in our community,” Bean said.

“Again, that’s a school project,” Hill said. “Those are school meets. Let it come out of the school money. We have some big problems in this city to correct.”

Hill asked where the city would get the money to correct those problems if it invests $150,000 a year in the pool.

“I’m not denying that the need is there,” Hill said. “We have a lot of needs in the community.”

During the summer, 150 to 300 persons use the pool every day, Councilman Jim Gourley said. Linn-Benton Community College uses it for classes, and the community-based Sweet Home Swim Club, which requested the pool be added to the school district bond, uses it daily all year.

Councilman Gourley did not think the city’s share of the costs would reach $150,000 with more people attracted to the new pool and paying fees to use the pool.

“If we lose that facility, I don’t think that’s in the best interest of the city,” Gourley said. He also asked what the real cost is when a child does not have the opportunity to learn to swim.

One question, Hill said he asked when touring the facility was whether there would still be a pool if it were not included in the bond. He was told the existing pool would continue.

Initially, the school district was talking of putting $200,000 in renovations into the facility, City Manager Craig Martin said but told the council he would recommend against that because the existing pool has served its twice its useful life span. Any expenditures on the pool would be an inefficient use of funds.

Pointing to rusting lockers, a deteriorating ceiling and more, Bean said that “it’s embarrassing to go in there.”

When he was on the School Board, Danielson said, “I kept harping on the fact that they aren’t doing maintenance.”

The district only did maintenance when something caused an uproar, Danielson said. Just because the building is old doesn’t mean there needs to be a new one.

“My car is 35 years old, and I don’t have to get a new one,” Danielson said. “Sure it (the pool) gets a little crowded, but we’re not a big city with a lot of money.”

Hill said the issue is a matter of priorities and that the pool does need to be replaced, but there are other priorities.

“I have spent many hours in that swimming pool,” Corky Lowen said. “But I think our main interest in this city is clean water and sewers.”

She is an advocate of teaching children to learn to swim, but “the priority is not that swimming pool right now. It’s the infrastructure.”

Bean moved to table the resolution until Jan. 9 to allow staff to gather information so the city council could again review it and to allow councilmen the time to tour the existing pool facility. The motion passed 7-0.

Present at the meeting were Hill, Bean, Gourley, Danielson, Bob McIntire, Craig Fentiman and Mayor Tim McQueary.

In addition to the pool and reconstruction of the high school, the bond also includes construction of four classrooms at Hawthorne, an expansion of Hawthorne’s gym, replacement of old heating and electrical systems, asbestos removal throughout the district, possible repair of blacktop throughout the district, creation of additional athletic fields, repairs to the track at Husky Field and a number of other projects.