Empire Editorial: Build a public pool

Posted: Sunday, March 20, 2005

Mendenhall Valley residents have waited years and decades for a swimming pool, and city officials have long considered it a priority. It would be a mistake now to stray from the plan and expect a private business to deliver.

The idea has been that the city would build a pool near its new Dimond Park high school - a pool open to the community and shaped to its needs. But the Alaska Club also has ideas, and it has asked the city to hold off.

Normally a city might appreciate it if a business could step in and fill its needs without expense to taxpayers. In this case, agreeing not to compete with a business means standing back and letting the need go unfilled. A private pool would save money for the city but would cost its residents. A swimmer who does not buy a membership likely would pay substantially more at a club than at a city pool, and surely would have trouble working the hours for open lap swimming into his or her schedule.

The offer that the Alaska Club brings to the Juneau Assembly is a six-lane pool with attached wading pool and slide. This presents several problems.

First, and most importantly, it would not offer true public access. According to the proposal submitted to the Assembly, Alaska Club members would have the pool to themselves for lap swimming from 6:30 to 8 weekday mornings and from noon to 2 p.m. afternoons. At other peak times, such as from 3 p.m. to 8:45 p.m., a couple of the pool's lanes would be restricted to members. Want to fit some exercise around your work schedule? Buy a membership.

Another issue is the connection from the laned pool to the wading pool. This means that the water for all activities must be roughly the same temperature. But a fitness swimmer or competitor working out needs a pool that's cooler than what a child might want to splash about in. In the case of the city's proposal, the detached recreation pool would be set for 86 or 88 degrees, while the lap pool would be 81 and could crank down to 78 for swim meets.

Swim meets are another matter. Currently Juneau has no place to host such events as the Alaska high school championships and all-ages open and qualifying meets. If the city passes on building a new pool, this will remain the case. The proposed private pool doesn't meet the dimensions and other requirements any better than the city's existing downtown pool does. These events could draw thousands from around the state to Juneau in the course of a year.

The projected expense of a public pool and related recreation facilities is in the $27 million range and part of a $54 million community center including a Valley library. It's well worth the expense, especially considering the level of public interest.

A League of Women Voters survey last year found that 75 percent in Juneau considered a "Valley Community Center" including a pool was either very important or somewhat important in terms of public improvements for the next decade. That compares favorably to the 60 percent who considered construction of a new state capitol important to Juneau.

What the voters envisioned - and what the city has been discussing since the mid-1980s - is a public pool. It's time to make it happen.

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