|Parks officials say long-term solution being sought for pool
By Tom Marshall
Senior Advocate writer
Members of the Mt. Sterling-Montgomery County Parks and Recreation Commission told the Advocate that they have been deluged with concerns and questions since news broke recently that the city pool will be closed this summer.
The pool is considered unsafe to open. The commission is now looking for a long-term solution.
Commission vice chair James Davis said people have asked him why the commission did not plan for replacement of the pool that is now more than 40 years old. The city operated two pools at the parks and rec park off the Bypass, but one (which is more than 50 years old) has been closed for some time.
Davis’ answer—they did, but the existing operational pool was in worse shape than they thought, he said.
“Two years ago the parks and rec board hired Shamrock Enterprises to conduct a feasibility study on repairing or replacing the city pool,” Davis explained to the Advocate. “They determined that it would cost approximately $300,000 to $400,000 to repair or approximately $1.2 million to replace the pool.”
At that point, Davis said, the commission and director began paying down existing debt in anticipation of pool repair. He said that since 2015 the commission has paid down the Easy Walker Park debt from $800,000 to $540,000 and the special project fund for the pool has been vested from $13,000 to $204,000.
“All this was done to ready the county for pool replacement,” Davis said. “We thought that we would get another year or two out of the existing pool based on the feasibility study.
“After our bonding capacity increases this year, the parks board is poised and ready to begin construction on the city pool in spring 2018,” he added.
Commission chairman David Charles said he has spoken with several disappointed people, many of whom wonder what happened.
Charles said he explains to them that the commission had been working on a solution for the past two years with a feasibility study designed to explore the problem.
“We’ve had to move our timetable up because of what’s going on with the pool starting to fail structurally,” he said.
Charles said he tells people that the commission was not ignoring the situation, it was simply balancing the needs involving the pool with those at the community’s other parks.
Up until recently, the commission had been looking at repairing the pool, but early cost estimates indicate that might be a poor investment, he said.
The commission is now looking at increasing its bonding capacity to borrow money to build a new pool.
Charles said it would be a terrible waste of taxpayer dollars to now sink as much as $350,000 into the repair of an aging pool.
With a new pool, the commission also has to keep in mind that it needs the money to maintain such a facility, he said.
Public pools do not generally generate enough money to cover the cost of maintenance, several officials told the Advocate.
In addition to borrowing money, Charles said the commission will explore partnerships that might help pay for a new pool.
Charles declined to discuss what some of those partnerships might look like early on in the process.
There has been discussion among some officials that the school system, which supports a high school swim team, might be one of those partners, but superintendent Matt Thompson said the board and Central Office have not discussed that to date.
As for public money, the county’s two legislators said there appears to be little in the way of funding.
State Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, said he recently went to the state Dept. for Local Government looking for funding for the pool at the YMCA in Winchester, but was turned down. The Winchester Y was forced to close.
Alvarado said he would try again for Mt. Sterling, but was not hopeful.
The Legislature, he noted, is facing a tightening budget because of the current pension crisis.
Alvarado, however, said he realizes the importance of a local pool in a small community and programs it supports like the Mt. Sterling Gators swim team. His children had once been members of the team.
Likewise, state Rep. David Hale, R-Wellington, said there is little state funding available for projects like a community pool.
Hale said he had previously discussed an idea for a regional recreational facility in Montgomery County including a pool, but there has been no study as to the feasibility of such a facility.
For the moment that doesn’t appear to be something Montgomery and some of the surrounding counties are in position to move forward on, Hale said.
Charles said the parks and rec commission will continue to seek public input through upcoming meetings once preliminary plans for a new pool are available.