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Board left trying to pinpoint why aquatics center measure failed

GRANDVIEW - This summer the laughter of children will still waft over downtown Grandview as kids splash around in the municipal swimming pool. But just how long the more than 50-year-old swimming pool will be able to stay in operation is in question.

Monday night, members of the Grandview Parks and Recreation Service Area Board met to review the May 17 special bond election that resulted in the defeat of the proposed $6.8 million family aquatic center project.

Grandview Parks and Recreation Director Mike Carpenter took time to review the election numbers with board members. He noted that of 1,814 votes cast, 1,283 were against the proposal, leaving only 531 people voting in favor of the facility.

"Approval was just under 30 percent," Carpenter said.

Board member Pam Horner said although she was saddened by the results of the election, "...the voters have spoken."

Board Chair Dave Copeland asked each of the board members to share feedback and information they received from community members following the election.

"We're obviously not trying to regroup and go again soon," Copeland said. "But we want to lay the groundwork."

He added that when the board visited other communities with family aquatic centers most of them advised the Grandview board that the facilities are not something that typically receive voter approval the first, second or even the third time around.

"We knew we had that challenge," Copeland said.

Board member Dan Churchill said he doesn't think people really understood why the group had decided to move forward with such a large facility. He said people wanted to know why the board wasn't proposing the construction of just a 50-meter lap pool.

"Everyone I spoke with said, yes we need a new pool in Grandview," said Board member Liz Charvet. "It was just the money."

Churchill said he didn't think people realized that the reason the board was looking at such a large facility, which would have included a 50-meter lap pool, a zero-depth pool, water toys, slides and a concession stand, was to create something that would support itself.

Churchill then asked how the board could have presented all of the information it collected in the past year and half to voters in a way that they would have understood the reasoning behind the project.

Board member Robert Morales said he didn't think it was the intent of the board to capsulate everything it had learned into one meeting for people. Instead, he said the board looked for community input all the way through the project. He said if anything the board needs to work on finding a way to make people feel comfortable enough to call Carpenter with their questions and concerns about the project, that way it could have been tailored into something voters would have approved.

"It's just tough to get people to take part," Copeland said.

Churchill then asked Carpenter what it would take to build just a 50-meter pool in Grandview. Carpenter said there are several 50-meter pools in the Yakima Valley, and that he believes they are all operating with deficits.

Horner said as a city council member she couldn't support the board's decision if they chose to move forward with simply constructing a 50-meter lap pool that would continue to run in the red. The current municipal swimming pool is being subsidized nearly $30,000 every year by the city to keep it operational.

"I don't think it's fiscally responsible to do that," Horner said.

Churchill then asked Carpenter how much longer the city can operate with its current pool.

"We're living on borrowed time," Carpenter said, noting that the pool will likely only be able to be kept open another couple of seasons.

Copeland said Hermiston and Milton-Freewater couldn't get voters to pass their aquatic center proposals and ended up eventually having to close the city pools because the city could no longer afford the cost of running them. He said the pools were closed for several years before their aquatic centers were constructed.

"At some point in time the funding for the pool is in doubt," Copeland said of Grandview's municipal pool.

Morales then asked the board members what they thought the next step should be.

"I'm ready to just leave it alone for awhile," Horner said.

Morales added that the public has spoken on the issue.

"And I think we need to listen," he said.

Charvet said she doesn't think people are ready to spend that kind of money on a pool facility.

"You have a lot of people who said no," she said.

Morales suggested holding one more public hearing, asking community members to come forward and explain to the board what they want in a family aquatic facility and why they voted no in May. He said this would at least give the board something to think about as they look toward the future.

"We need some input, we need some closure," Morales said.

Copeland then suggested the board continue to meet occasionally, as new information comes up about other pool facilities in the Valley.

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