Empire editorial: It's time for a pool revision in the valley

Posted: Sunday, April 23, 2006

Juneau's leaders could learn a lesson from voters' reactions to airport and school projects over the last two years. That lesson should convince them to propose a swimming pool for the Mendenhall Valley.

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No, not the magnificent $26 million aquatic center for which voters denied sales-tax revenues last year. But a swimming pool that offers the new valley high school and the residents of the valley the same sort of shared arrangement that downtown residents and Juneau-Douglas High School now enjoy.

The aquatic center and associated recreation and meeting areas could have provided the kernel for a badly needed hub in the valley, it's true. But there is no questioning that voters thought the proposal, with its two pools and its lazy river, was a luxury instead of a need. A second high school will need - not just want - a pool, and one has been a long time coming for the valley at large.

Recent history has shown that voters will get behind once-rejected community projects if they are reshaped into something more financially palatable, or more in line with what seems logical to them. After all, they approved the new high school after rejecting it in a previous form.

Now, many Juneau residents are angry that mere months after they rejected sales taxes for an airport terminal expansion, airport managers are pushing essentially the same plan. Granted, they're looking for federal and state money instead of local taxes, but many voters were making a statement about the scope of the project and will be unhappy regardless of the funding source.

The city needs a second swimming pool, and preferably one that can host larger athletic events than those currently possible in the state capital. A pool is a part of the community's educational and physical advancements, and not a mere luxury. And, as many commentators pointed out during last year's tax election, one can be built for less than half the price that voters were asked to pay for the larger package.

It is clear that voters last year valued infrastructures such as sewers and parking over recreation. It is unlikely, though, that this means they wouldn't want a swimming pool to go with their new high school. It's not the full-fledged community center that some had envisioned for the valley, but it's a start.

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