A handful of key facts swirl about the Enumclaw Aquatic Center and city officials address the fate of the popular-but-aging facility.
First, there is a loyal and passionate core group of pool boosters. Second, the pool has problems that need fixing sooner, not later. And third, solutions come neither cheap nor easy.
A double dose of pool information was delivered the evening of Sept. 24 to members of the Enumclaw City Council. Chambers were packed as the council heard first from representatives of McKinstry, a Seattle-based firm that conducted a study of the pool facility; next up was a report from a citizen advisory committee that formed early this year, charged with coming up with a set of recommendations that would sustain the pool for years to come.
A BIT OF BACKGROUND
It was the late 1960s when King County embarked on an ambitious plan. The Forward Thrust initiative was passed by voters, resulting in swimming pools being built throughout the county. Enumclaw’s pool sprang to life in the early 1970s.
All went well for nearly three decades, but pools don’t always age well. In possession of multiple, aging facilities, the county took a dramatic step in 2002, announcing it would call a halt to all its pool operations by the end of that year.
Looking for a solution that would keep the pool open, the county offered to give the facility to the city. As part of a package deal, the county also turned over ownership of the Enumclaw Golf Course, which was leased to a private operator.
The golf course was producing noteworthy revenues at the time and the city envisioned using golf money to help pay for pool operations. In addition, Enumclaw voters overwhelmingly approved a February 2003 levy, agreeing to increase local property taxes to help fund the swimming pool.
Over time, the once-successful funding formula crumbled. By 2008, golf course revenues had diminished and the available funds were needed to maintain that facility. Since then, the pool has been supported through the city’s General Fund; beginning with 2017, the necessary funding exceeded the money being raised through the 2003 levy.
The result is a venue that continues to age, supported by a funding mechanism that no longer works.
THE McKINSTRY REPORT
A study was conducted to help determine the life-cycle costs of operating the current aquatic center while also considering alternative scenarios. The study looked at the cost of improvements, potential new construction costs and more.
In the end, the city was provided four scenarios, each carrying a dollar figure.
• Termed a “do nothing” scenario, this option assumes the city would only address problems as they arise, on an as-needed basis. Cost: $1.8 million.
• A second scenario is similar to option No. 1, but adds relatively low-cost features that would generate additional revenue. Included were a climbing wall and an addition to the building that would serve as a “party room.” Cost: $2.3 million.
• A “major modernization” option calls for complete renovation of the facility, including the installation of new, energy-effecient systems throughout. Cost: $7 million.
• A final option is to find a new piece of land and building a new pool facility of similar size. Cost: $9.6 million.
The McKinstry report also included a structural analysis done by PCS Structural Solutions.
“The building is in good repair in comparison to buildings of its similar age, use, and type of construction,” according to the PCS review. It was noted, however, “We did observe some areas of structural deterioration and potential seismic liability.”
THE ADVISORY COMMITTEE REPORT
The seven-person committee – some members living in Enumclaw, some outside the city limits – spent months compiling data and drafting a recommendation. Included in the process were an online survey, paper surveys, records of pool use and a rate study of similar pools in the area, along with the cost analysis provided by McKinstry.
In addition, the committee hosted a community meeting that started at the pool but was moved to a school building to accommodate the large crowd. Also, a petition supporting the ongoing operation of the pool was signed by 307 citizens.
The committee findings showed the Enumclaw pool truly is a regional asset. A study of more than 5,500 users showed 44 percent were from Enumclaw, 16 percent from unincorporated King County, 16 percent from Buckley and 6 percent from Bonney Lake. Smaller groups came from smaller towns in both King and Pierce counties.
The committee’s online survey “reflects vigorous public interest and support for the pool,” according to the final report.
Of the 926 people taking the online survey, 51 percent favored updating the pool and building to bring it up to code, while adding additional features; 27 percent favored doing the minimum necessary to bring it up to code; 15 percent favored building a new pool; and 1 percent were OK with closing the pool with no plan to rebuild.
Suggested enhancements included a sauna and hot tub area, party room, therapeutic pool, slide and a play area for children.
In the end, the committee offered eight recommendations.
A rate increase was suggested, with a notation that existing pool fees appear to be at least 20 percent below average. Included was a recommendation that price breaks be available to senior citizens and other members of the community.
A second suggestion calls for city investment in pool systems in the worst condition. Repair of what are termed “critical items” is pegged at approximately $300,000.
The committee believes a rate hike can handle operating costs, but will not fund upcoming capital improvements. To meet that financial obligation, the committee suggests seeking state and county grants, selling surplus city property and, finally, placing a levy on the ballot that would pay for improvements in 2019 and 2020.
Other recommendations center on better marketing, improving the look of the facility and signing a long-term lease with the Enumclaw School District. The district owns the land the pool sits on.
Finally, the committee suggests the city explore the possibility of expanding the tax base that supports the pool. Presently, money comes from a property tax levy collected only within the city limits. Since users come from nearby communities, it was noted, a taxing district could be created that takes in more of the Plateau.
The advisory committee was chaired by Tamarah Knapp Hancock and also included Thomas Sanger, Steve Cadematori, Janet Devlin, Ed Hatzenbeler, Jason Ziemer and Melissa Niemi.
SO, WHAT’S NEXT?
Armed with both the McKinstry report and the advisory committee’s recommendations, the City Council has passed the issue to its Community Services Committee.
According to City Administrator Chris Searcy, that group will have two basic charges. First is to look at capital needs: what needs to be done to keep the facility functioning and meeting community needs. Second, the committee will tackle the suggested increase in user fees; specifically, what type of strategy to adopt – increase costs all at once or phase the rate hikes in over a period of years.