Voters approve Mendenhall Valley pool; ball players must stick to mud

Posted: Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Voters on Tuesday approved a $19.8 million swimming pool in Mendenhall Valley, but rejected a measure to provide $3.9 million to pay for artificial-turf ball fields.

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Both measures would have been funded through property taxes.

The vote on the pool, Proposition 4, was 55 percent in favor, and 44 percent against in Tuesday's unofficial results. The vote on the turf, Proposition 3, failed 58 to 41 percent.

"We were able to bring back a proposal that the public was able to support. They sent back a message last time that the proposal was too expensive and too elaborate and I think we accomplished the goal of making it reasonably priced and a pool that they could support out in the valley," said Mark O'Brien, co-chairman of the group Juneau for the Pool.

The turf proposition was the only one of five that failed this election.

"We were asking a lot of the voters in this turnout," said Jeff Duvernay, president of Gastineau Channel Little League.

"We need to do a better job of educating the public and letting people understand the benefits of the turf to the fields. We started our education process a little late," Duvernay said, adding that the proposition will be back.

The $19.8 million pool facility will have two pools: a six-lane, 25-yard lap pool and a warm-water pool for swimming lessons, senior aerobics and training programs. The facility is about one third smaller than the 2005 pool proposal, which would have cost $28.8 million. It could open by early 2010.

The pool plan also qualifies for $5.2 million in state money, or 26 percent of the cost, because the swim lessons that are a part of the proposal are considered an educational purpose.

About $14.5 million in bonds will be paid for by raising property taxes $34 per $100,000 of assessed value for 15 years.

As for the turf initiative, advocates said turf is safer than dirt, builds better skills and will prolong the softball and baseball season in Juneau. They also say 1,000 children play softball and baseball in Juneau, more than soccer and football combined.

Opponents said property owners in Juneau already pay too much in taxes and wondered if too much is already spent on sports. The money would have been used to install artificial turf and drainage at the Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park baseball facility, and the Melvin Park softball facility, both in the Mendenhall Valley. Adair-Kennedy already has a turf football and track field, but coaches say those fields aren't designed for or are safe for playing baseball.

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