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Friday, May 6, 2016

Aqua Center turns indoor-outdoor pool

Thursday, January 3, 2002

Splashy plan fits neatly into SL's emerging rec center concept.

The plan for a large Storm Lake Aquatic Center has moved halfway in out of the cold, adapted almost unchanged as an indoor-outdoor pool within a proposed Storm Lake Community/Recreation center plan.

The city-formed committee that had planned the Aquatic Center as a replacement for the aging city pool has stepped aside, deferring to a committee formed by Mayor Jon Kruse to plan a community center. Members of both committees had reached a consensus that a combined project should be investigated before final decisions are made.

"The Aquatic Center group is no longer meeting at this point. The plan they came up with originally is now being used as the indoor/outdoor pool part of the community center project, and seems to be fitting into that building nicely as a blueprint for the pool development," City Administrator John Call told the Pilot-Tribune this week.

Mayor Kruse said he plans to call a meeting of the Community/Recreation Center committee by the third week of January to begin exploring the potential revenue and expenses of operating the proposed center. Following that, he plans to make an announcement in late January about the future of the project.

Few specifics about the development have been set in stone at this point, Call said. Basic plans call for the community center to include a gym/ fitness area, a pool, community meeting spaces and possibly a senior citizen center, he said.

While city hall has heard little input from seniors about the need for a center, they realize that the parking situation surrounding the current center downtown is making the access difficult for the seniors, Call said.

An indoor/outdoor pool will certainly raise the price of the facility substantially, city officials admit. "When Denison built their indoor/outdoor pool, the cost was around $2 million in 1990 dollars, so we would be looking at an expensive proposition today certainly," Call said. "But the indoor/outdoor pool concept is what the group has been kicking around."

Specifics like membership or user fees have not yet been determined, but officials indicate that they are concerned with balancing the future operating costs with the various forms of revenue that a substantial public building could produce.

Locations are also being considered, but at this time, the city is looking primarily at two sites that are already in public ownership, Call said - land owned by the medical center near the existing Fitness and Health Center just off Highway 7 in west Storm Lake, and land owned by the school district near the middle school in the west part of the city.

Both entities have shown an interest in cooperating with a community project in the past, and city officials believe that both land areas are still available , Call said.

While the Aquatic Center group has stepped aside to allow the mayor's Community/Recreation Center planning to progress, the Aquatic Center project could still be poised to go forward on its own if the decision were made not to pursue the community center, Call said.

"The Aquatic Center could still go separately with the plan it has. I would guess that a decision to move forward with the community center or to go forward with an outdoor aquatic center will need to be made by mid year to fall of 2002. I don't see the timeline going any further out than that," Call said.

With a decision in mid-year, the project could then go to the city council for public input and an eventual decision which could pave the way for a city bond issue vote. If all is approved, the city could then bid a community center or aquatic center project during the following winter with the potential for construction to start as early as spring of 2003. If the aquatic center is selected to go it alone, the city may not want to see a project delayed any further with its current pool being outmoded and facing considerable costs to continue future service.

Funding remains a huge question mark, whatever form the project may take. Officials are planning to appeal to the state Vision Iowa/CAT funds, assuming the state budget woes don't drain ongoing appropriations for the cultural and tourism funding programs.

Local option sales tax is a possible option for a portion of the cost, but the current formula for use of the penny tax revenue would probably have to be re-written and re-approved by the city council to allow funds to go toward a community center and/or aquatic center, Call said. That tax also sunsets in 2005, and would have to be re-approved by local voters to continue after that.

Also, private contributions could be sought toward a community center or aquatic center project, which would be non-profit in nature.

Neither project is a shocker for the Storm Lake public. A citizens committee proposed a similar facility in the mid-1990s as a Storm Lake Civic Center, and went so far as to produce architectural drawings and receive pledged support from city leaders at the time in the million-dollar range, but the project dissipated. Last April, the local diversity committee produced design plans for a multi-million-dollar Storm Lake Community Multi-Cultural Center with some of the same recreational resources as well as a multi-ethnic awareness mission. That group failed in an attempt to purchase the former Harbor House location as its site, and stepped aside when the mayor's committee was formed.

An aquatic center has been under informal discussion for years, as several have been built in surrounding cities with more modern zero-entry, play and beach areas and other amenities that are not possible with Storm Lake's aging and often-repaired pool. The aquatic center committee is the first serious attempt by city officials to formally propose a replacement pool to the public, however.

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