Second pool will add to quality of life, economy

Posted: Sunday, July 24, 2005

For several years, Juneau citizens have been calling for a second city swimming pool, the famed "pool in the Valley."

Indeed, in the League of Women Voters' 2004 Budget Survey, Juneau voters ranked a second swimming pool as the top-desired capital project in the borough. In both 2002 and 2000, voters ranked "youth activities" and "swimming pools" as the top city functions deserving increased services.

The Juneau Assembly is rightly poised to give voters a chance to make the dream of a second pool a reality on this October's ballot.

The Dimond Park pool has been planned for at least 10 years by the city. More work has been done on this project than any other under consideration for the 1 percent sales tax.

As planned, the pool will include an eight-lane lap pool for recreational and competitive swimming, and a modern recreational pool, which includes a graduated beach, a "lazy river," water slides, and other play features popular with kids and families. If anyone has been to Whitehorse recently, you might have visited its new pool. The planned Dimond Park pool will be quite similar.

Because they are so popular with families, such recreational pools are positive revenue generators. Instead of being a large drain on the city budget, the proposed Dimond Park pool will have a far greater cost recovery than the Augustus Brown pool.

City staff estimates that the pool will require a contribution of roughly $275,000 per year, far less than the figures cited by some local fear-mongerers, and well worth the cost when you consider the benefits it will provide.

Another positive feature of this kind of pool is its broad appeal. The graduated beach will allow easy access to folks in wheelchairs and with other special needs. The lazy river gives seniors and people in therapy a great workout, walking against the current.

Some folks in the community seem to want to place the pool in competition with money for sewer line extensions. This is unfortunate, since the $7.5 million for sewer extension currently proposed will do more for sewer infill than the borough's done over the past 10 years.

This $7.5 million will leverage additional state funds and local improvement district dollars and will knock off the first four sewer projects on the borough's list.

The real question is whether we should spend $20 million in sales tax funds on a $75 million expansion of the Juneau International Airport. Backers of the airport project call it a capital-move issue. We think this is overplayed and seriously doubt that airport improvements will have much impact on any decision to move the capital.

This argument also rings hollow when you consider where legislators spend their time when they're in Juneau, especially when they bring their families.

Legislators have joined local hockey teams and have spent plenty of time in the Treadwell Arena. Many of us have shared a sauna at the Augustus Brown pool or ridden a chairlift with state lawmakers.

The Dimond Park pool will provide one more amenity that legislators and their families can enjoy when they come to Juneau.

Finally, the pool will also have a positive economic impact. Some of the largest costs to government and business today are soaring health care prices. Doctors say the biggest health risk to kids today is obesity, caused by bad food and sedentary lifestyles.

Kids and families need more opportunities like the Dimond Park pool to engage in healthy activities to avoid obesity and poor health - and to stay out of trouble. The eight-lane lap pool will also allow Juneau to host statewide swimming competitions, bringing Alaskans and their spending dollars to Juneau.

The new pool will be an added amenity to encourage new businesses and families to relocate to Juneau.

The Dimond Park pool has been a dream of Juneau residents for years, including Assembly members Stan Ridgeway and Jeff Bush. Now that we have the chance, it's time to give the voters a chance to make it happen with the 1 percent sales tax.

• Marc Wheeler is the deputy mayor of Juneau.

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