August 13, 2004 in City

Plan would replace pools with aquatics ‘Disneyland’

By The Spokesman-Review

Spokane Park Board members on Thursday unveiled a $35 million proposal to replace the city’s seven aging pools with contemporary play-swim facilities, creating what one official called “a lifestyle change for aquatics.”

The heart of the proposal involves construction of a $15 million aquatics “Disneyland” to include a wave pool, “lazy river” ride, spray features, water slides, zero-depth entry and a traditional competition pool. One board member suggested putting the facility in Franklin Park at Queen and Division near NorthTown Mall. Shadle Park is another possible location.

“Recreationally, the current pools are obsolete. They are one-dimensional, plain tanks with diving boards,” said Park Board member Steve McNutt in a recent draft proposal.

“Nobody is building plain pools,” he said in the draft.

Other cities have opened play-swim facilities and found them so popular that admission fees easily cover operating costs, officials said.

“Our pools are obsolete,” said Park Board member Elizabeth Schoedel, who is heading up an ad hoc committee on aquatics.

In addition to the aquatics center, three leisure pools are proposed for other parts the city. They, too, would have the newer water features such as a “lazy river,” slides and sprays. All of the current wading pools would be closed and replaced with lower-maintenance neighborhood spray “pads.”

A lazy river is a slow-moving stretch of water suitable for riding on in a float. Spray pads are pipes that shoot water on users.

The project would be placed before voters in two phases. The first phase would go on the ballot in 2005 or 2006. It would include the larger indoor-outdoor aquatics center, one leisure pool on the South Side and five spray pads.

That ballot would also have funding for other park needs, including an enlarged Carrousel building at Riverfront Park.

A second phase of the aquatics plan would be put to voters later. It would add two more leisure pools in central and north Spokane and nine additional spray pads. All of the spray pads would be custom-designed with neighborhood involvement, officials said.

Both prospective ballot measures involve selling bonds and repaying them with property taxes. The amount of additional taxes has yet to be determined.

Once the project is built, parks officials said they believe they can reduce the city’s current operating costs for swimming, in part by setting modest entry fees. The current emphasis on cost-cutting at City Hall points to the likelihood of fee increases in many city-sponsored programs as early as 2005.

Park recreation programs are likely to see fee increases next year, officials said on Thursday.

The long-debated practice in Spokane of giving kids free swimming may be on its way out. For years, parks officials have talked about charging children for swimming, only to be rebuffed by strong political support for free swimming for kids.

Construction of new, more dynamic swimming facilities would give children and families what McNutt called “exciting participatory water features” in return for the fees,

Park Board President Jeff Halstead said fees at the main aquatics center could run $4 per person or $14 per family per day, which he said is reasonable for a day of fun. He said City Hall’s cost-conscious environment demands that any improvements in park services be done without putting any new burden on expense budgets.

“If the citizens can help us build it, it will pay for itself,” he said about the proposed aquatics facilities.

Park Director Mike Stone said it would be a change of lifestyle for Spokane swimming.

Some of the city’s six outdoor pools are virtual relics. Cannon Pool dates back nearly 80 years with renovations in 1960 and 1984. Hillyard Pool, which dates back just as far, had a new pool built inside the old one in 1960. Comstock was renovated in 1959. Shadle’s indoor-outdoor pool and Witter Pool were built in 1960.

Liberty Pool holds the distinction of being the city’s newest. It was built to replace a condemned facility as the result of a 1983 voter-approved bond issue, which included improvements to pool facilities citywide.

A bond issue in 1999 provided money for some pool improvements in 2000, including paint and sealant caulking.

Parks officials said the facilities are now so old and need so much work that it would be smarter to invest in something new and more in tune with current trends in water recreation.

The city is under orders from the state to begin posting lifeguards at its 11 wading pools starting in 2005. Park officials on Thursday said that makes keeping them open too costly. As a result, wading pools are likely to close next year, they said.

Currently, the Parks Department spends $840,000 a year to operate swimming and wading pools, including the subsidy for free swimming for kids. Halstead said he believes that amount could be cut by more than half by building new attractions and charging fees.

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