Groups fight for and against pool

Measure would build project in the valley for about $26 million

Posted: Thursday, September 29, 2005

Opposition to a proposed Dimond Park aquatic center is mounting as longtime supporters try to rally support for an Oct. 4 vote to dedicate sales taxes to the project.

Proposition 1 asks voters to support building an aquatic center in the Mendenhall Valley with 46 months of sales tax, which is about $26 million.

Some people question why Petersburg could build a six-lane swimming pool for $8 million and Juneau has to spend $26 million on an eight-lane pool.

Neil MacKinnon, who recently organized a group called First Things First, said the city should spend more money expanding municipal sewers instead.

"We have sewage running into ditches and we only give a drop to our sewer problem," said MacKinnon.

The 1 percent sales tax ballot proposes spending $7.5 million extending sewer to all areas within the city's urban service boundary. The whole project calls for $14.7 million. The city expects state grants and other funding to fill the gap.

MacKinnon said if the city really wants to build a swimming pool in the valley, it should build a smaller one for $8 million and spend the rest on sewer expansion.

"Why are we building a place to play when we don't have a place to live?" MacKinnon asked. He said he swims at Augustus Brown Swimming Pool regularly.

Deputy Mayor Marc Wheeler, who organized Citizens for Dimond Park Pool, said knowing how to swim is important because Juneau is a waterfront community.

"The Augustus Brown Swimming Pool is overcrowded," Wheeler said. "We need another pool so every kid in the community has a chance to learn how to swim."

Citizens for Dimond Park Pool has more than 400 people on its e-mail list. About 500 people have endorsed the project, Wheeler said.

David Rogers, another of the group's organizers, said the city shouldn't delay the project because it would get more expensive.

Juneau's swimming pool costs $26 million because it is more than a pool.

Besides an eight-lane pool, the 46,200-square-foot facility has diving boards, a spectators' area, water slides, a whirlpool spa and a separate recreational pool.

Because the center's fancy features would attract many kinds of users besides lap swimmers, the city expects user fees would cover 80 percent of the center's operational costs, said City Parks and Recreation Director Kim Kiefer.

Only $300,000 would come from the general fund to support the aquatic center every year - less than what the city is spending on Augustus Brown Swimming Pool now, Kiefer said. Augustus Brown generates only 43 percent of its revenues.

Kiefer denies rumors that the city would shut down Augustus Brown Swimming Pool after the new pool is built or that the user fee for Augustus Brown would increase to subsidize the aquatic center.

"We may change the hours of Augustus Brown to make it run more efficiently but we are not going to close it," Kiefer said.

Kiefer said the fee structures for the aquatic center and Augustus Brown Swimming pool are different. Adults would pay $8 for a daily pass to use the aquatic center while swimmers at Augustus Brown normally pay $4 for an hour.

"They are different kinds of recreational facilities," Kiefer said. "There are so many more things to do at the aquatic center. There won't be an hourly fee."

• I-Chun Che can be reached at ichun.che@juneauempire.com.



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