My Turn: Build a valley pool, not a new recreation center

Posted: Sunday, October 09, 2005

My "no" vote on the sales tax proposition for the Mendenhall Valley pool was to send a message that we need a pool, not an amusement park. Many times we look to other communities, identify what seems to be working well for them, and then duplicate the same or similar idea for our town. We shouldn't want to build a facility similar to the Whitehorse Recreational Center. The Whitehorse Recreational Center provides a great reason for folks to get away from Juneau, and a great way to support our Canadian neighbors.

If we truly need to look to another community and identify a project that has merit, look no further than Petersburg. They are building a six-lane pool, with a separate leisure pool, which includes a waterslide. The estimated cost of their pool is under $9 million. A larger portion of their budget is also needed for the foundation work, as the selected site will require a pile foundation, a greater cost than a spread footing foundation.

It is not surprising to see that once again, we are divided about what is best for our community, whether it is the road, the airport or the valley aquatic center. At some point, Juneau needs to become united and support what is needed to improve the quality of life and the life expectancy of our community. Too many times we gather together, discuss our wants, and develop a project that far surpasses the needs of our community. The proposed recreational center at Dimond Park was such a project.

The time to heap blame upon either pool advocates or opponents has passed. The questions before us now are whether the community wants a second pool or not, and if so, what kind of pool would we like to see? I firmly believe that voters would enthusiastically greet a smaller-scale project. Our experience building the second high school was instructive here. In spite of our initially bruised feelings about the outcome of the first election, eventually we were able to see the results for what they were: a sign of real anxiety with the process and the plan that went before the voters. This prompted fruitful and positive discussions that eventually gave us a plan more consistent with the public's desires. It's unfortunate that this community has to vote on an issue more than once before its desires become clear. Let's use that knowledge to try and communicate and involve others even more effectively from the beginning.

A pool in the valley will bring added value to the educational programming at the high school, allow for ease of access to the valley elementary schools, and will provide needed recreational opportunities to our community. We need a pool in the valley, with sufficient lanes (six to eight) for regional competitions, a bleacher area for onlookers, and a separate tank which will allow use by our seniors and beginners just learning to swim. Perhaps that second tank could also support a waterslide. We don't need a $28 million amusement park ride.

Let's revisit the idea of a pool in the valley, consider what we really need, find the right funding mechanism, and build a pool that will offer sustained use for both the community and the schools.

• Juneau resident Bill Peters has three children attending schools in the Juneau School District. He works at Alaska USA Federal Credit Union. He is active on the boards of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Alaska, the Juneau Chamber Board and the Board of Education for the city of Juneau.

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