Carbondale voters to decide aquatics center improvement project
An $8 million funding question that’s before Carbondale voters in next week’s municipal election comes with lots of follow-up questions regarding a proposed new town swimming pool facility, should the measure pass.
Chief among them is whether the planned aquatics center — intended to replace the existing John M. Fleet Pool on the same site — will ultimately end up costing more than is being asked for the town to take on in debt, given inflationary pressures.
“We’re certainly aware, and have seen that with some other (projects) where prices are all over the place for anything related to construction,” new Carbondale Town Manager Lauren Gister said.
A significant cost increase could mean the town’s new Board of Trustees may have to pare the project down, consider design changes or seek out other sources of funding, such as a capital campaign, Gister said.
Some of the eight candidates seeking three seats on the town board in the April 5 election also wonder if the project can be built and operated efficiently enough to meet the town’s aggressive climate action goals.
Supporters say the new pool can be built with energy goals in mind, and that rising costs are all the more reason to pass the funding question now, because if the town waits to replace the aging pool facility, costs will only continue to increase.
Ballot Question A asks if the town should take on $8 million in debt, with a maximum payment not to exceed $14.43 million, to build the envisioned aquatics center that came out of an extensive master plan process over the past two years.
The proposal does not involve a new tax, but would use proceeds from the existing 0.5% sales and use tax that is dedicated for parks and recreation purposes. Town voters a few years ago agreed to extend that tax.
The plan calls for converting the existing pool site at Main and Seventh streets, and part of the northwest corner of Sopris Park, into a new aquatics center with a 3,000-square-foot main pool, a dedicated lap-lane pool, a 2,500-square-foot splash pad, a 200-square-foot hot tub, a new 3,800-square-foot bathhouse, and a shaded lounge area.
The rebuilt facility would stay primarily within the existing footprint, with some expansion to the west where a ditch would be covered, and to the south into part of Sopris Park to accommodate the splash pad.
Ballots for the election were mailed out the week of March 14 to all registered voters in Carbondale. Completed ballots are due back to Town Hall by 7 p.m. April 5.
A required TABOR notice sent out by the town last month regarding the ballot proposal included pro and con statements for the measure.
“The current facility is inadequate and expensive to maintain,” read one of four provided comments in support of the proposal. “This project was approached with modest goals resulting in a plan that is the appropriate size and cost for our town.”
Just one written comment was provided in opposition to the measure. It read, in part, “We need expanded and improved sidewalks, street lighting, attainable housing for local workforce, and in-town transit more than the proposed improvement of a recreation facility. The town should create a priorities list for capital improvements before deciding how to spend funds.”
When asked at a March 16 election forum their position on the ballot question, trustee candidates were also somewhat split, with many still undecided on the issue.
The three incumbents who are running, Trustees Luis Yllanes and Erica Sparhawk, and Ben Bohmfalk, who is running unopposed for the mayor’s seat, all said they support the measure and trust the planning process that arrived at the pool replacement project.
Yllanes countered the notion that the new pool would come at the expense of addressing other community needs.
“I wholeheartedly support this, knowing that a pool is a community asset and treasure … that brings the whole community together during the summer and provides a life skill for folks,” he said.
Sparhawk agreed, and said the existing pool facility is outdated and not up to Americans with Disabilities standards.
“We have a conceptual design, but there is still lots of planning to be done, and we can build it net zero,” she said in response to the climate goals concern.
Bohmfalk said it’s easy to second-guess some of the details, but many of those details are still to be worked out.
“We looked at the location and the footprint, and this is the best proposal compared to the alternatives,” he said. “We have already done a lot of Band-Aid fixes to extend the life of the existing facility, and we’ve been told by staff that there will come a point in time when we’re not able to do that any longer.”
Most of the six challengers for trustee seats were generally supportive of building a new town pool, but said they have some reservations.
“I’m concerned about the cost, but I also know the construction market right now is just going up and I don’t think it’s going to come down,” candidate Jess Robison said. “If that’s the aquatics center the town wants, then now is the time to do it because it won’t get cheaper.”
Candidate Zane Kessler said he’s concerned about encroaching on Sopris Park, which he called the “crown jewel” of downtown.
“I question whether we want to increase the footprint of the aquatics center and take away some of that valuable (park) space,” he said.
Candidates Chris Hassig, Colin Quinn and Frosty Merriott spoke to the pool project in relation to the town’s climate goals.
“I am concerned about whether we’ve really committed to it being net zero, and whether we’re really serious about climate issues,” Hassig said. “I don’t know that we’ve fully explored maybe some smaller-step measures, rather than a complete overhaul.”
Quinn said he agreed a town swimming pool is an important gathering place, but energy and water efficiency are musts.
“We should be leaders in net zero, and if we can’t do that, I don’t think we should (build it),” he said.
Merriott, who formerly sat on the town board, said he told the former town manager at the time that a new pool should be net zero, as well as funded in part through naming rights.
“It would not surprise me if the cost of construction goes up another 50%, and we could easily be looking at $12 million in the current construction market,” Merriott said.
Trustee candidate Colin Laird said he sees the value of a municipal swimming pool, but he agrees the town should look at other priorities with equal attention.
“I don’t know if we should be spending that kind of money for a pool, given all of the other things we have to work on,” Laird said.
Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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