In the end, after much discussion, one thing was abundantly clear: Money must be made immediately available to keep Enumclaw’s swimming pool open for its thousands of users.
The fate of the facility – officially the Enumclaw Aquatic Center – was the topic of a March 11 workshop attended by members of the City Council, city administration and representatives from the Department of Parks and Recreation. The wide-ranging discussion covered everything from pool amenities to anticipated costs, from who uses the pool to possible funding sources.
When conversation turned to action, all agreed that the city has to pony up the cash necessary to tackle the most pressing needs. While giving approval for some necessary work to be done, the council also allowed city administration the leeway to best determine where the money comes from.
City Administrator Chris Searcy said the city will tackle the “bigger ticket items” that can be addressed over the next two to four years.
Parks and Rec Director Michelle Larson said the most pressing needs are the roof, the pool liner and deck. Also on the short list for improvements are repairs in the spectator seating area and upgrades to the “air handling” units. Finally, there will be work to bring certain aspects into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Larson estimates the work will total about $630,000 and be accomplished during the next two years.
Part two of the council discussion was the need for future planning. Getting some key repairs made will allow the city time to determine its long-range plan of action, Searcy said. Topics can include whether to tackle major improvements or – the most expensive scenario – build a new facility. If that were to happen, would it be on the site of the present pool (school district property) or at another location?
Through all the conversation, the undisputed fact is that the pool remains a popular place. Aside from recreational swim for the general public, the center is used for kids’ programs and formal swim lessons. The pool also is home to Enumclaw High athletic programs: during the fall sports season, the Hornets compete in boys’ water polo and girls’ swimming; during the winter season, it’s boys’ swimming; and, in the spring, the pool is used for girls’ water polo. On top of that, EHS has a Special Olympics program that calls the pool home.
Using 2018 figures, Larson said the pool totaled about 7,500 enrollments for swim lessons. A membership program, allowing for recreational use, added more than 3,000 people to the list and there were 168 rentals by people hosting special events.
A BIT OF BACKGROUND
Enumclaw’s pool sprang from an ambitious plan launched in the late 1970s by King County. The Forward Thrust initiative was proposed by government, passed by voters, and resulted in swimming pools being built throughout the county, including one on land owned by the Enumclaw School District.
All went well in Enumclaw 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 a money-making operation at the time and the city figured it could use 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 keep the pool operating.
Over time, the math no longer worked. 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 EXPERTS WEIGH IN
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.”
A LOCAL COMMITTEE CHIMED IN
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.
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.