My Turn: Aquatic center would help Juneau cement regional hub status

Posted: Wednesday, September 21, 2005

In 1981, the Juneau City Assembly established a Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee (PRAC) "to act in an advisory capacity for planning and development of all phases of juvenile and adult recreation." The PRAC has identified a community center at Dimond Park as our No. 1 priority. The aquatic component is the keystone of the community center.

The PRAC applauds the wisdom of the Assembly for placing the Dimond Park Aquatic Facility on the fall ballot, to be paid by a continuation of the 1 percent sales tax. We strongly believe the aquatic facility is a wise investment in our community.

Need: In 1996 the Assembly adopted the Parks and Recreation Comprehensive Plan with a recommendation for a second pool in the valley. The population and need has only grown. Augustus Brown Swimming Pool simply can no longer meet public demand. The statistically valid Dimond Park Community Center Survey (February, 2005) indicated 47 percent of respondents used Augustus Brown Swimming Pool last year. Of those who did not use the pool, 51 percent indicated they did not because the facility was too far away, too busy, too crowded or the hours inconvenient. A second pool will address all of these barriers.

The League of Women Voters conducts a survey every two years. Consistently the Valley Community Center is top priority. In response, an ideal site has been selected adjacent to the new high school and preliminary designs drawn.

Parks and public recreation facilities are basic community infrastructure. The valley has no indoor public recreation facility for people to interact with their friends and neighbors.

Dimond Park is within walking distance of several schools and a short commute from others. This proximity will make possible reinstating the school district program that taught every third-grader to swim. In our water-based environment, teaching our kids to swim is a wise investment in safety.

Presented with a JRC The Alaska Club proposal for a six-lane pool, the Juneau Assembly concluded the private venture did not meet public need. The public would have designated lanes during certain hours. And JRC would charge 150 percent of what Augustus Brown charges with reduced public access.

Economy: Whitehorse has an aquatic facility similar to what is being proposed. People travel from Panhandle towns just to visit this popular pool complex. With a similar facility, Southeasterners need not travel to Whitehorse to enjoy an aquatic center. Let's attract and keep people and their money right here in Juneau. Our place as a regional hub will be strengthened. Jobs will be created, and there will be a positive economic ripple.

An eight-lane lap pool will position Juneau as a host site for state swim meets, great for our kids and another boost for the economy.

Quality of life is a key economic driver. If we want people to stay in Juneau, businesses to choose to locate here, and families to decide to move here, we simply can't ignore quality of life issues. Just look at what the Treadwell Arena has done for the community.

Community fabric: The Dimond Park Aquatic Facility will further enhance the unique cultural and recreational opportunities in our community. The design has something for everybody, including two tanks. The cooler tank is an eight-lane lap pool suitable for teaching, exercise and competition.

The warmer tank is a leisure pool with water slides, a lazy river, graduated beach, whirlpool spa and sauna. On the surface, this may seem decadent. Look deeper and you'll find leisure pools have impressive cost recovery. The current in the lazy river is wonderful for aerobics and rehabilitation. The graduated beach provides easy access for toddlers, seniors and individuals with limited mobility. It's good clean, affordable fun. Day passes to the pool will be the most affordable all-day recreation option in town.

The site also makes it possible to build the entire community center - an innovative idea that includes a new library - sometime in the future. The incorporation of a library in the planning makes good on the promise the city made when purchasing the land and significantly increases the potential for securing grant funds.

Vote yes on October 4.

• Joan O'Keefe lives in Juneau and is chairwoman of the Juneau Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee.

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