Council: Not sink-or-swim time yet on pool

Kent city residents won’t be voting on a new aquatics center on this August’s primary ballot.

Kent city residents won’t be voting on a new aquatics center on this August’s primary ballot.

The Kent City Council is continuing to debate what kind of proposal it wants to send to voters, or even if a measure to build a pool should go before taxpayers. Another piece of the puzzle is missing as well – whether a partnership with the YMCA of Greater Seattle, to help build the pool is do-able.

Without a specific proposal in hand, the Council missed the May 27 deadline to get the measure on the Aug. 19 primary ballot.

Now the Council has until its Aug. 4 meeting to decide whether to place a bond measure for a pool on the Nov. 4 general-election ballot.

Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke told the Council in a May 20 workshop that it needs to figure out what role the city plays in offering pool opportunities for residents.

“What’s missing from the public discussion is the purpose of the city of Kent in providing an aquatics experience,” Cooke said. “Is it for swim teams? For swim lessons? For recreation? Until you are really centered on what to provide to the community, my concern is the measure to the public is unclear.”

City officials are looking for a facility to replace the Kent Meridian Pool, built in 1972. The city took over operation of the pool from King County in 2003. The Council directed city staff at that time to pursue a long-term solution to replace the aging pool.

Last fall, city staff proposed an 80,000-square foot facility at an estimated cost of $48 million, to be built on a 14-acre site south of West Meeker Street and east of Naden Avenue. The facility would include a 25-meter competitive lap pool, a leisure pool, a therapy pool, a gym with an elevated track, a small fitness room and party rooms.

Also on the drawing board is a smaller bond measure, for a phased construction plan, which would cost about $20 million. The initial phase would include an indoor competitive pool, an indoor therapy pool and an outdoor recreation pool. A gym and fitness area could be added at a later date.

In April, the Council asked city staff to hire a consultant to evaluate the Kent Meridian Pool and provide an estimate about how much longer the facility could last and at what cost. That report, to be compiled by McKinstry Co., should be done by late June.

“We will have a full assessment of what we will need to keep the pool alive for five more years and if it is worth the investment,” said John Hodgson, city chief administrative officer, at the May 20 workshop.

The heating, ventilating and air conditioning system needs the most amount of work, said City Parks Director Jeff Watling.

“It’s producing at a very inefficient level,” Watling said. “If we want to buy more time, we’re looking at some level of investment to operate the pool at a level of service we are comfortable with.”

City staff also told the Council May 20 that YMCA of Greater Seattle remains interested in a partnership with the city to build and operate a new aquatics center.

But the YMCA needs 18 to 24 months to conduct a market analysis and to get a better idea of what it would need to contribute financially to the project, Watling said. “They have three other projects they are wrapping up in 2008 and 2009,” Watling said. “By 2010, they could put more of their focus on a Kent project.”

Council members are pondering whether they can wait for the YMCA to become involved, before going ahead with the project.

“Before we enter a partnership, I think we’ve got to give voters the first chance to say yes,” Councilwoman Elizabeth Albertson said at the workshop. Mark Prothero, a Kent attorney and chairman of Citizens for Kent Recreation and Aquatics Future, attended the workshop.

“We’re waiting patiently for the Council to decide how to proceed,” Prothero said Thursday. “The thought of finding a way to do it at less cost, we have no problem with that.”

But Prothero made it clear his group had favored putting it before voters sooner rather than later.

“We were hoping we could make it on the August ballot,” Prothero said. “But if it’s November or we wait for a partnership, we will not give up. We’ll hang in there and do it the way the Council wants it done. But it’s a little frustrating it’s not moving as fast as we had hoped.”

City staff plans to hire an architect to give a more accurate estimate on what a scaled-back facility might cost. That information should be available by late June, Hodgson said. He noted the estimate could help determine if a new pool can be built for less than $20 million.

“That might make it more attractive to voters,” Councilwoman Deborah Ranniger said. “We’ve been talking about this for five years. I think the voters’ voice needs to be heard.”

Contact Steve Hunter at 253-872-6600, ext. 5052 or shunter@reporternewspapers.com.

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