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Aquatics: Upgrade, maintain or build new?

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Ann Fiore
December 9, 2007
— Maintain Rockport Pool.

Upgrade Rockport Pool.


Build a new pool in Palmer Park and a shallow pool at Rockport.


The city council faces those three options when it meets Wednesday to discuss the hot-button issue of aquatics in Janesville.


Rockport Pool is 27 years old, and the Palmer Park wading pool is 70 years old. Both are in need of repairs.


A resident aquatics committee began discussing the city’s options nearly two years ago. Last summer, it recommended a $9 million plan that included aquatics facilities at Palmer and Rockport parks and splash pads at six other parks.


City Manager Steve Sheiffer later suggested a project maximum of $5 million, saying the city could fit that much into its debt service without a major tax increase.


But in his report to the council, Sheiffer recommends against building a new main pool at Palmer Park.


That option, Sheiffer said, carries the highest 20-year price tag—nearly $12 million—after debt service, the operations subsidy, and repairs and maintenance are added.


By comparison, the city would pay about $6.5 million over 20 years to maintain Rockport Pool as it is.


The cost to improve Rockport Pool—adding zero-depth entry, water slides, a new bathhouse and possibly a lazy river—comes to about $7.9 million over 20 years.


Maintaining or upgrading Rockport Pool also makes sense in terms of pool use, Sheiffer said.


City staff studied the time it takes Janesville residents to drive to Rockport and Palmer parks. The conclusion: 40,000 people live within a 10-minute drive of Rockport Park, and 48,000 live within a 10-minute drive of Palmer Park.


“It’s just a marginal difference between the two,” Sheiffer said in an earlier interview. “… Rockport Park has an existing pool, and it’s in the correct location.”


Sheiffer said the council also has to consider that the pools will be open only about 78 days during the year and used by about 15 percent of residents.


What would the three options cost Joe and Jane Taxpayer who own an average $112,700 home?


** Maintaining Rockport Pool: $10.74 per year over 20 years.


** Upgrading Rockport Pool: $13.05 per year over 20 years.


** Building pools at both parks: $19.63 per year over 20 years.


Maintaining Rockport Pool is the cheapest option, but it also carries more risk, Sheiffer said.


City staff project that, over the next 20 years, the city will spend more than $2.1 million just on maintenance for Rockport Pool and Palmer Park wading pool. Maintaining the pools won’t attract more swimmers or lower the sizeable operations subsidy.


An upgraded pool would carry a higher construction cost, but it would increase attendance and lower the operations subsidy. The city could recover some costs by raising pool fees, Sheiffer said.


Sheiffer recommends that the council schedule a public hearing in January on the two options involving Rockport Pool.


He recommends no changes to Palmer Park wading pool or Lions Beach.


Reactions

The Gazette contacted several Janesville City Council members and aquatics committee members for their thoughts on the report. Some had not read the report and were not prepared to comment. Here’s what others said:


** Council member Paul Williams:


“I’ve thought for quite some time that we really have to look at needs and not wants in the budget cycle we have. I think our needs have to do with maintaining what we have.


“I haven’t felt for a long time that we needed to do a large aquatics facility, and I wasn’t in favor of splash pads.”


Williams said he wants to hear more about the two Rockport Pool options. He said the city must balance amenities with affordability.


** Council member Amy Loasching:


“I’m kind of surprised at the direction it took, only because I knew what the aquatics committee had recommended.


“I’m very happy the recommendation from the administration was to either maintain what we have (or upgrade). Those were my thoughts from the beginning. How can we afford that much money for an aquatics park used for such a short time during the year?”


Loasching said she felt bad for aquatics committee members, who didn’t have the information the council has now.


** Tom Edwards, creator of savethedogpark.com, a Web site that opposes an aquatics facility in Palmer Park:


“While we view the city manager’s comments as very positive towards saving the dog park, Steve Sheiffer ultimately does not have a vote. The city council members decide the fate of the aquatic center,” Edwards wrote in an e-mail to the Gazette.


Edwards said some council members who aren’t seeking re-election are emotionally invested in the idea of building an aquatics facility.


“My fear is those council members will vote for the aquatic center, leaving voters with no recourse.”


Edwards is organizing a “dog-in” at noon Tuesday so dog owners can show their support for keeping Palmer Park’s pet exercise area the way it is. He plans to post information at www.thedogin.com.


** Renee Dooman, co-chairwoman of the resident aquatics committee:


Dooman said many residents mistakenly thought the committee wanted to build a Wisconsin Dells-type water park. The committee just wanted a community pool that kids, adults and disabled residents could use, she said.


“I think Janesville needs to focus on its future growth, not just staying in the present,” she said.


** Shelly Crull-Hanke, co-chairwoman of the aquatics committee:


Janesville will need a bigger aquatics facility in the long term, and that won’t change, Crull-Hanke said.


She believes the city administration considered the committee’s input, but community views played a bigger role.


“It was frustrating to see (our recommendations) not followed through and getting something built for Janesville. I hope it will be.”


If You Go

The Janesville City Council will hold a study session on aquatics and landlord licensing at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the council chambers at City Hall, 18 N. Jackson St. The meeting is open to the public and will be broadcast on JATV Channel 12, the city’s public-access television station. Public comments will not be accepted.



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