There were three options presented to the City Council for consideration in allocating approximately $7.1 million in Fund 301 money for capital projects. During the course of the discussion, it became readily apparent that the option with the greatest public benefit was the third option, which consisted of constructing a new animal shelter, a new fire station on Grant Line Road, a police firearms training facility, park and playground improvements, and a new 25-meter competition pool at Dr. Powers Park.
The major drawback with the proposed pool contained in Option 3 is that according to staff, it would create a net loss of approximately $273,000 to the city’s general fund. It also became apparent that the swim center advocates did not feel a 25-meter competition pool would suit their needs, and that they would need a 52-meter pool.
I think it is safe to say that the other four capital improvements projects set forth in Option 3 are projects that will (and should) be approved by the City Council for construction during the upcoming fiscal year. They are winners.
But what of the construction of a competition pool? After all, this is what is truly needed by the swim teams for the purpose of holding and hosting swim meet competitions — not lazy rivers or water slides. I think Councilman Mike Maciel said it best when he stated that we all need to come to the realization that the type of aquatics facility originally envisioned as part of the proposed Ellis development is not feasible given the current economic condition, both now and in the foreseeable future.
Does this mean that an aquatics facility cannot be constructed? I believe such a facility can be constructed.
During the presentation, it was made clear by Zane Johnston that about $2.175 million in Plan C funds can only be used for the construction of a new pool. This means that there is, guaranteed, the sum of $2.175 million the city can use to construct a new 52-meter competition pool, whether it is at the Holly Sugar Sports Park or Dr. Powers Park (both of which are city-owned lands).
The cost of a 52-meter competition pool, according to Mr. Johnston, would be $9.2 million. That means we would need to come up with an additional $7 million. I think that to get us there, the following questions need to be asked and answered:
1. Would Surland, developer of Ellis, contribute the $7 million needed as part of its proposed Ellis development? If the answer to this question by Les Serpa is “yes,” then we would need to know when that money would be made available — i.e. would it be a year from now, two years from now, five years from now? If Surland cannot contribute the $7 million, then how much would it contribute and when?
2. Having gotten solid, honest and nonevasive answers to the first set of questions, i.e. a hard dollar amount and a firm date of when the money would be contributed by Surland, the next question to be answered is that if there is a shortfall between the money available and the $9.2 million it would cost to construct a new 52-meter pool, how would that shortfall be bridged? At this point, the city and swim team advocates would need to come up with ways to raise that money. For example, would the private sector be asked to participate through contributions, as was done in the case of the renovation of the Grand Theatre? And/or could we pursue obtaining federal and/or state grants that could be used for the purpose of constructing a sports facility such as a 52-meter competition pool?
3. The third and final question that would need to be answered is, how much would it cost the general fund on an annual, recurring basis to operate a newly constructed 52-meter competition pool? Given current economic times, this is something that needs to be studied closely, with honesty and scrutiny. During the course of the April 3, meeting, one of the swim team advocates stated that they could assist in the operation of a newly constructed swim facility. What would the swim team advocates be willing to contribute toward the operation of this facility in order to minimize its impact to the city’s general fund? Could the operation of this new pool be structured in such a way so as to minimize its operating costs to the city, so as to spare it from being closed after it had been constructed?
I firmly believe that if all the stakeholders — Surland development, the city, the swim center advocates and the people of this city — are willing to ask and come up with honest, nonevasive answers to these questions that are grounded in fact and solid finances, we can achieve the goal of having a first-class competition swim pool constructed a lot sooner than everyone expects. And by engaging in this deliberative and collaborative process, it would be a facility that we would all truly be proud to call our own.
• Dave Helm is a Tracy resident.