The Augustus Brown Swimming Pool was a hot topic this spring when the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly was deciding its fiscal year 2015 budget. City Manager Kim Kiefer had flagged the pool as a potential for saving money, suggesting the Assembly close it due to high operational costs and even higher anticipated repair costs.
The Assembly kept the downtown pool open for the fiscal year after hearing dozens of people speak against its closure. But it said it would rethink its decision once a survey of the pool’s construction needs was completed this summer.
The city released the findings of the survey, conducted by the CBJ Engineering Department, Jensen Yorba Lott and a slew of other companies. The anticipated 10-year cost for repairs? $5.5 million.
With a $7 million projected budget deficit for the next fiscal year, $5.5 million to fix the pool is “a very large capital project,” said Assemblyman Randy Wanamaker, chairman of the Assembly Public Works and Facilities Committee.
The survey has the projects necessary to fix the pool broken down into short-term and mid-term categories. If the city follows the guidelines set in the survey results, the mid-term projects would be completed over five to 10 years. The short-term fixes would be completed in the next five years, and would cost an estimated $830,000.
“The intent of the prioritization is to list items that should be addressed as soon as possible, and others that are either optional or can be addressed at a later date,” the executive summary of the survey reads. “However, all items should be addressed.”
Wanamaker said the short-term fixes would cost less than he was expecting, but might not make sense to complete in the long run.
“I’m not sure what we buy by going with the short-term fix — a couple more years of life, five more years of life,” he said. “We still have an aging building that still needs major things done. It’s a quandary — if you just accept the short term what are your plans beyond that?”
The survey identified 25 short-term necessary repairs, including refinishing locker room floors, repairing cracks in the pool deck and replacing entry doors, in-wall pool steps and shower stations, among other plumbing work. The biggest ticket item on the list is the pool facility’s control system, which “looks like something from like 1978” and will cost the city between $200,000 and $300,000 to replace, Engineering Department director Rorie Watt said.
The $5.5 million 10-year cost to fix the pool is less pricey than Watt expected, he said. The list of 61 mid-term repairs includes a lot of electrical and plumbing replacements, including almost a complete overhaul of restroom infrastructure and a new heating system. The most spendy item on the list is a $654,024 roof replacement.
Watt said the future of the pool is now in the hands of the Assembly. Wanamaker said the Assembly will not close the pool in this fiscal year; it already budgeted for Augustus Brown for FY 2015.
Although repairs at the pool are necessary in the next few years, the facility is in no grave danger if the Assembly waits a while to make a decision on its future, Watt said.
“If nothing gets repaired at the pool, it’s not like it’s going to fall in on itself,” Watt said. “In terms of working on the facility, we’re not going to do anything in the next couple months.”
The Augustus Brown Swimming Pool was built in 1972, with a pool tank and equipment and roof replacement in 1989. The facility’s most recent significant update was a roof repair in 1991.
In 2011, another city-owned public pool, the Dimond Park Aquatic Center, opened in the Mendenhall Valley. Since then it has become the most-used pool facility in Juneau, with 57,247 visitors in FY 2013 compared to Augustus Brown’s 51,723.
In light of the anticipated costs to fix the downtown pool, Wanamaker said the Assembly has some tough decisions to make.
“With two pools, and one very, very new, can we afford to keep them both open?” he said. “Is our population base large enough to support the use of two pools?”
The Assembly will have to consider all of its obligations before committing to rehabilitate the pool, if it decides to do so, Wanamaker said. The city can’t afford it all — it might have to put off fixing other buildings or roads to keep the pool afloat, he said.
“Maintenance on buildings (has) been put off to help hold the budget in place for the short term,” he said. “We can’t keep putting things off.”
The full Assembly will probably discuss pool funding at a Committee of the Whole work session this winter, Wanamaker said. The Assembly Finance Committee will then consider it in the FY 2016 funding cycle.
“I think in 2016 at the latest they’re going to have to have a long-term solution in place to justify keeping that pool,” he said.
Wanamaker’s three-year term on the Assembly is coming to a close in October, and he is not running for re-election. He won’t be on the Assembly when it makes a decision on Augustus Brown.
“I enjoy working on these community issues, but there are a lot of talented people out there with ideas, and this is their opportunity to step forward and help with the community’s needs,” he said.
Voters will also have a say in the future of the pool in Oct. 7’s municipal elections. The creation of an empowered board to run the city’s pools more like a business — similar to those that govern Bartlett Regional Hospital and Eaglecrest Ski Area — will be an option on the ballot this fall.
View the entire Augustus Brown Swimming Pool survey report online at www.juneau.org/engineering/pdfs/20140814104114.pdf.
• Contact reporter Katie Moritz at 523-2294 or at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.