Pool commission

The five-member Fidalgo Pool and Fitness Center commission voted unanimously to replace the facility with a new one on Oct. 1. From left: commissioners David Way, Christine Mathes, Andrew Olson, Jeremy McNett and Mel Larson.

The Fidalgo Pool and Fitness Center board voted unanimously Monday to replace the aging facility with a new pool now estimated to cost $28.4 million. The board plans to raise funds for half and ask voters to pay for most of the rest.

Based on half in private funding and about $500,000 in grants, the board may ask voters for a $14 million bond.

The proposal at this point would put the bond request to voters in 2020. The levy renewal, which pays for maintenance and operations, would go to voters separately the following year.

“If we could raise $28 million privately, we wouldn’t go out for a bond at all,” Executive Director Mitch Everton said Tuesday. “The bond is going to be whatever the difference is.”

This decision leaves all other options involving renovations off the table, the board confirmed.

The goal of fundraising half the cost was suggested by Commissioner Christine Mathes at the Sept. 25 public meeting. If money becomes a problem, the board will look at changing the design of the new pool to cut costs.

The board is relying on a combination of a successful fundraising campaign and voters to make this plan come to fruition.

“It’s a risk,” Commissioner Jeremy McNett said.

Should the fundraising effort fall short, McNett has said reducing the square footage of the new building would be one way to reduce costs.

The board publicly presented cost estimates for several upgrade options on Sept. 25 – the new pool at $28.4 million, an $11.6 million renovation and addition or a $2.5 to $3 million renovation only.

A renovation and addition would have added a recreation pool space for a total of 25,000 square feet, taken about eight months to complete and shut down the pool for up to five months. A renovation of only the existing facility would have retained the building’s current size of about 19,000 square feet and shut down the pool for two to five months, according to TRICO Companies estimator Jason Solie.

The new pool option the board has chosen is currently designed to be between 41,000 and 42,000 square feet. Commissioners did not decide on whether they will retain the fitness center and build around it, or build a new one.

Everton has said that a new pool would need 40 to 50 percent increase over current usership to support running a larger facility. He said Tuesday that there has been an increase in patronage since mid-2017. Based on revenue in the middle of last year, usership would need to increase by 75 percent, he said.

The board expects usership to triple once a new facility is built — not necessarily from new patrons, but from “saturation,” he said, meaning they expect current and potential pool users would come more frequently.

The current levy, which brings the pool $675,000 annually for maintenance, would not increase, Everton said Monday. The board has previously stated user fees will not increase by more than inflation, either.

When the schematics for the new pool — then estimated at $25 million, including a reserve fund — were introduced to the public earlier this summer, the pool board floated the idea of seeking a $5 million public bond with the remainder coming from private donations and grants.

Resident Thomas Conroy, though he wants a new pool, expressed concern Monday that the public would reject a bond and put the maintenance and operations levy (which mostly funds the pool) at risk.

“Is this the right time to push a $30 million pool?” Conroy asked commissioners. “The worst thing I’d hate to see is to lose voter confidence.”

Fundraiser Renata Maybruck encouraged the board to embrace the vision whole-heartedly and build momentum toward its success. There’s lots of ways to get to the big goal, she said.

“My suggestion would be to go for the whole thing,” Maybruck said.

It’s a very good time to go out for a fundraising campaign because some other major fundraisers in Skagit County are over, she said.

Maybruck was hired for the summer, and her contract with the pool just ended, but commissioners discussed hiring her again during an executive session after the public meeting on Oct. 1. They may vote on contracting her services at either a special meeting or the next regular commission meeting.

McNett said major donors he’s talked to have been waiting for the board to make a decision. The board confirmed that the only pledges so far are $25,000 from Everton and $10,000 from former pool Executive Director Marilyn Stadler.

Stadler was adamant that an entirely new pool facility was the only way to go, and a renovation with addition, or just a renovation, would not suffice due to its aged state.

“We’re looking at a building whose life is over,” she said at the meeting.

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