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Making pool happen needs joint effort

To find the 8 acres I’m writing about today, take the Palouse Highway south just past the Moran Prairie Grange. Turn right onto 61st Avenue, and you’ll see a patch of undeveloped land in the middle of developing neighborhoods. Spokane County officials believe a water park would be perfect there.

The proposed South Side Aquatic Facility will cost in excess of $3 million, and the county already has the money budgeted. Kids could be splashing around in the facility as early as the end of next summer.

At 1:30 Thursday afternoon, the rain fell and the wind blew, but I was thinking summer thoughts while standing on the undeveloped land with Doug Chase, director of Spokane County Parks and Recreation.

Chase oversaw the building of the county’s North Side Aquatic Facility on Hatch Road. The facility, which charged patrons either $2 or $4, depending on their ages, brought in $102,641 in its first full season. It cost $108,835 to operate. Municipal pools and water parks are notorious money-losers, so for the county to “subsidize” only $6,000 of the expenses is a brag-worthy accomplishment.

Chase is hoping to duplicate this success. The proposed South Side facility would have water slides plus a “lazy river,” in which an artificial current carries you along on inner tubes. A conventional park would be built around the aquatics center for an additional $450,000. It would be within walking and biking distance for many county and city kids.

The new facility is not a done deal and not without controversy. The area is in transition from prairie-feel to city-feel. A water park, no matter how well-done, means more traffic. Urban Growth Area boundaries, as well as Joint Planning Area boundaries, would have to be adjusted, and recently, the Growth Management Act Steering Committee of Elected Officials agreed to recommend that these boundary adjustments be made.

If you don’t quite understand what these boundaries mean, trust me that people spent years developing them to guard against “slurbs” – sprawling housing developments and strip malls that strip away the soul of a community. Pools and parks add soul, if done correctly.

At 3:30 Thursday, I was sitting in a joint meeting of Spokane County commissioners, Spokane City Council members and Mayor Dennis Hession.

The aquatics park proposal was on the agenda, because the county needs city sewer and water to make it happen. About 6:15 p.m., Chase presented his plan. Cookies and coffee had sent people’s blood sugar into the shaky zone, and some of elected officials had already left, including the mayor, so I was worried people would feel crabby and take it out on the plan.

Council member Mary Verner was not crabby. But she was concerned that not enough people in the area had heard about the proposal. The county held two public meetings, and nearby schools were surveyed and visited for input, but projects don’t usually get much attention unless people feel besieged by them. For instance, the proposed aquatics facility isn’t far from the corner of 57th Avenue and Palouse Highway, a corner allegedly being lusted after by Wal-Mart.

In the end, the aquatics proposal was well-received at the joint Thursday meeting. Council member Al French and County Commissioner Todd Mielke agreed that municipalities should consider working together on a regional plan to serve the swimming needs here.

I am the self-appointed worrier about adequate future swimming for our children. So I urge the city and the county to demonstrate, through this project, how swimmingly well collaborations might work. They need to act soon, too. Summer is just nine months away.


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