'Exciting time' for Juneau pool

Dimond Park will be the first multi-use aquatic center in Juneau, new manager says

Posted: Thursday, February 18, 2010

Karin Jacobi is no stranger to "exciting." She was born in Norway and has lived in England, Australia, Canada and Tennessee. On the weekend, she does adventure racing.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

But Jacobi - as well as Parks and Recreation Director Marc Matsil and Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee Chairman Jeffrey Wilson - all use the word "exciting" to describe Dimond Park Aquatic Center and its possibilities.

"Juneau doesn't have experience with a multi-use aquatic center," said Jacobi, who began her job as the new aquatics manager for the city around the start of the year. "It's exciting to be involved from the ground up."

The eight-lane pool at the under-construction facility should be big enough and new enough to meet all the requirements for regional swim meets, Jacobi said. The three meeting rooms could be used for aerobics, kickboxing, birthday parties or boot camps. The gradual depth increase in part of the pool makes it friendly to seniors.

On land, Jacobi plans for baby-sitting services, weight training and aerobic equipment, as well as a coffee bar and a concession stand that could sell goggles, swim caps, and products with the winning logo from a soon-to-begin logo contest.

Dimond Park will also have a lazy river, or "therapeutic resistance channel," helped by a $500,000 grant from the Rasmuson Foundation, waterslides, and geothermal ground source heat pump, helped by a $1.45 million grant from the Alaska Energy Authority.

Other program ideas Matsil and Jacobi mention are the school district's "Learn to Swim" program, which Jacobi estimates will become part of the curriculum in 2012, and maybe "dive-in" movies, kayak classes, kick boxing, boot camp, and even fly fishing.

"It's an aquatic center, but we're trying to move in the direction of making it a real community center as well," Jacobi said.

Voters approved $19.8 million in general obligation bond debt for the 34,000 square foot facility in 2007, making it the largest capital project in the Parks and Recreation Department's history. Part of that is being paid for with $4.6 million from the Department of Education and Early Development, Matsil said.

"We're in tough economic times, and building a $20 million aquatic center in that climate, money is a primary consideration," Jacobi said, adding that to stay open both facilities need to offer "the best mix of programs and services."

The department aims to recover 70 percent of the new aquatic center's annual costs while maintaining the existing 30 percent cost recovery at the Augustus Brown pool, of which Jacobi is also in charge.

Jacobi said part of the challenge of the job will also be to maintain interest in the existing pool once the new pool opens. She anticipates each pool will cater to a different market.

In determining new programs and new costs, Jacobi said pool administrators will also have to walk "a fine line" between pricing the pool out of the market and pricing the market out of the pool.

Dimond Park Pool Task Force Chairman Max Mertz asked the Assembly to consider creating an enterprise board to oversee the pools' financial matters. He made the pitch as a community member and not on behalf of the task force.

The Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee did not support that idea.

Wilson said the Parks and Recreation committee spent two hours debating the pros and cons of an advisory board versus an enterprise board at a recent meeting.

"We have a new manager on board with an incredible history, and Augustus Brown seems to be running really well and efficiently right now," Wilson said. "Maybe once the pool is established and running efficiently there will be time for that, but right now we don't see a need."

The committee would support an advisory board with a diverse membership, he said.

Jacobi's history with recreation began 20 years ago in Canada's YMCAs as an aerobics instructor, but before long, she was managing. She has also been a corporate wellness consultant and has done training and testing for police departments and for Canada's Department of National Defense.

She spent the last eight years as the aquatics manager for the municipal recreation department in Tullahoma, Tenn.

The Dimond Park Pool is still slated to open January 2011.

Assembly members floated the idea of delaying the pool's opening to save money in a recent budget meeting, but ultimately agreed to use revenue from the increase in tobacco tax, approved last fall and implemented at the start of the year, and reserves from the "rainy day" fund to balance the city's anticipated budget deficit.

Jacobi estimates the department will start hiring, training and doing "heavy duty marketing" for the pool in the fall.

• Contact reporter Mary Catharine Martin at 523-2276 or maryc.martin@juneauempire.com.

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