Saturday, May 18, 2024

Community Debates the Feasibility Study Findings

Community Debates the Feasibility Study Findings

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LEAVENWORTH— Should the City of Leavenworth continue its efforts to build a year-round aquatic center? That overarching question set the tone during the Indoor Pool Feasibility Study Public Forum held by the Upper Valley Park and Recreation Service Area (PRSA) and a quorum of the Leavenworth City Council on Sept. 19 at the Leavenworth Festhalle. Brooke Hanley and Keith Comes of NAC Architecture, a firm to which the City paid about $70,000, presented the findings of their feasibility study with a slideshow presentation.

Joining them on stage was Jason Lundgren, City Councilman and PRSA Board member. Around 80 people came to discuss the matter, which has evoked both excitement and concern in the community.

“This is a study. We’re not starting a design. We’re not putting anything on the ballot at this point,” Hanley said. “This is really to answer any of your questions and see if you’re supportive or if there are things you want to change about the study before we wrap it up.”

Hanley and Comes showed the results of a 2021 Needs Assessment survey done by the PRSA in 2021 from about 1600 people. The top two choices from that survey were an indoor aquatic center and more groomed trails. For NAC, those findings warranted a more focused look at what a new pool would require.

The inquiry’s fifteenth question asked, “In your opinion, how important is it to provide year-round, indoor aquatic programs at a pool facility in Leavenworth?” Close to sixty percent of participants marked it as “a high priority.”

An early plan was to build an enclosure over the existing facility, Howard Hopkins Memorial Pool, but NAC found that it would require significant maintenance and repairs within the next 5-7 years. With those considerations, NAC began considering a replacement building and weighed three options: a new pool with a seasonal enclosure, a new indoor aquatic center, and an aquatic center/recreational center. Based on those choices, the project’s total cost ranged from $16-$28 million.

Another survey question asked, “If a facility were built that met your needs, would you be willing to increase the local sales tax by 0.2% (or two centers for every $10 purchase) to help fund the project?” Nearly 70 percent of those polled were willing to do so. However, an additional question proposed a property tax increase at varying rates from 25 cents to $1 of $1000 of assessed value, and 40 percent of people did not support an increase.

Currently, the PRSA collects 11 cents for every $1000 of assessed value from all property owners within its boundaries.

Comes mentioned that NAC has worked closely with Ballard King Associates, which performed a detailed evaluation of operating costs. BKA estimated that the annual operating costs, with the estimated revenue subtracted, was $650,000 per year for an aquatic center and $478,000 with the added recreational center, which would include, among other features, waterslides, a climbing wall, and a hot tub.

Hanley explained that an $8 million PRSA capital bond would require that taxpayers pay a range of $.018-$.023 per $1000 of assessed value. This would be a 25-year payment commitment and require a one-time voter approval. As for the operating costs, that involves a PRSA Operating and Maintenance Levy at $0.22-$0.29 per $1000 of AV and includes voter approval every six years.

Comes added that in community aquatic centers, revenue rarely exceeds costs.

“It’s pretty clear that with some of the funding limitation that being able to support this project from a financial standpoint is going to take more that a single funding source, that we’re going to have to look at multiple funding sources in order to accomplish this building,” Comes said.

In an impassioned Q&A session with over a dozen people speaking on the matter, some voiced worries about how a small community like Leavenworth, with around 2,500 people, could pay for such an expensive facility.

One concern was that the center would become more of a tourist attraction than a community hub and that residents would feel pushed out by visitors. Lundgren stressed the importance of tourist dollars but also hoped the facility would maintain a local identity. “The community said with a resounding ‘yes’ that they want a year-round pool. That was their number one choice for recreational needs assessment,” he said. “Who uses it and how many people per day and what that blend is, that’s getting into the weeds, but it would be both. It would be for the community and our visitors.”

“We’re not trying to make this like Disneyland where it’s totally catered to tourism” Comes added. “But it still has enough amenities that will attract the tourists.”

During the Q&A session, Mauro Aurilio, City Council and PRSA Board Member spoke in favor of the project, citing the potential of Leavenworth’s tourism. “Our aquatic center, if we build one, will absolutely draw tourism. We need to use that engine to pay for it,” he said. “I feel like if we run it like a business and we run it in a way that will draw people there; we would actually be able to reduce our tax burden for our locals for that. And that’s why I say build it big and make it go.”

Some people supported that notion, while others raised objections. Among those apprehensions were cost considerations, feasibility, practicality, and other City priorities.

Towards the end of the meeting, a few attendees mentioned the possibility of forming a public committee to continue the discussions. Lundgren supported this motion while honestly laying out the challenge the PRSA has without help from the community.

“We’re out of money, and we’ve taken this about as far as we can, and hearing these mixed emotions in the community quite frankly makes it hard for a small board like ours. What do we do with it? We’ve heard concerns. We’ve heard, ‘Don’t do it.’ We’ve heard, ‘Do it.’ How do we go back next week and synthesize all this information?” Lundgren said. “If you want to keep this moving forward, then we need more momentum and more grassroots than the PRSA. It could fizzle out without public support.”


 

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