(By Brandon Hansen/Chewelah Independent)
Candidate said politics with mayoral race interfering with pool project…
After a crowded community meeting on Thursday at the Chewelah Casino to determine interest in saving the current public pool, mayoral candidate Bob Belknap said he’s holding off on the project until after the election.
“At the first general meeting of the save our swimming pool group, it became clear that politics and the current mayoral race is interfering with the process we are attempting to pursue in determining the viability of repairing and montetizing the community’s pool,” Belknap wrote in a letter to the newspaper. “As such I am suspending those parts of the project that directly involve City Hall until after the election. We will continue to investigate the experiences of cities and towns that have successfully revitalized older existing swimming pools, as well as the various funding opportunities, both federal and state and building a larger volunteer organization.”
This comes after community members weighed in at a meeting last week with many city leaders in attendance.
At the meeting, Belknap asked people to fill out forms to show if they’re interested in helping with the effort to fix the Chewelah pool which has been closed since 2013.
City Administrator Mike Frizzell and Mayor Dorothy Knauss were also at the meeting and answered questions from people attending. Knauss clarified recent news that the city would not be pursuing federal grants for the pool. She said it was her understanding that the city council had agreed to give Belknap and a pool foundation — if created — two years to find a way to fix the pool, and that the city would not provide funds for the project because Belknap said it would not cost the city money.
Both Knauss and Frizzell said that if the city would get grants for the public pool, they would have to bring the pool up to ADA standards for handicap accessibility which would also require updates to the bath houses.
Belknap then turned the meeting over to engineer and Chewelah resident Mike Leisch who admitted there was certainly work to be done to the pool but that was no reason to throw it away.
“The pool itself is sound so I’m willing to work with you if this community wants to work with me,” Leisch said.
Leisch said that the considerable price tag of $400,000 could be brought down if volunteer labor was used.
Belknap said the first meeting was to gauge the buy-in from the community and the interesting in saving the pool.
City employee Richard Hixson, who had worked on the pool for 17 years, said that there were several problems with the pool that would need to be redone and there were serious issues with the pipes and other equipment. Hixson also questioned the use of volunteers and wondered what would cover liability as they worked on the pool.
Hixson also suggested a pool district, using Port Angeles as an example — saying that that city went to the county to set up a pool district and they have a new $5 million dollar salt water pool. Port Angeles is a city of nearly 20,000 people.
Belknap said that the goal of the pool committee was to explore all options including fixing the existing pool or constructing a new pool.
“It’s a matter of research,” Belknap said. “I’m all for an indoor pool if that’s what we need to do. This pool is going to be a hard fix but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.”
During the meeting, Knauss then asked Belknap to come to the city council meeting and ask to partner with them.
A community member reaffirmed the idea for a new indoor pool saying that Chewelah is a year-round destination place and having the pool would only help the town that already has a ski facility. It would also help local motels by making Chewelah a more attractive destination.
Belknap said that the difference between repairing the existing pool and building an indoor pool would be a jump from $200,000 to $5 million, making it a considerably bigger project.
Rumors of the Spokane Tribe putting in a pool, or 49 Degrees North constructing a pool were also floated in the meeting as ideas that had been presented before. Those were not seen as things that were on the immediate horizon for either the Tribe or the ski resort.
The issue of funding to run the pool appeared to be the biggest issue for people.
“It will not fund itself,’ said Hixson. “You will have tax dollars subsidizing the pool. It’s grandiose. How do you plan on growing?”
Belknap said that the city had not monetized the pool well in the past and how much money the pool made depended on who was managing the pool at the time.
“There is an answer and we need a group to look for that answer,” Belknap said before suggesting a subscriber or member base that would pay money to use the pool.
One community member later in the meeting said that Brown’s Lake uses the subscriber or membership model and they’ve been self sufficient for 25 years.
Still, volunteerism, the condition of the pool and cost were big concerns for people.
One community member questioned if there would be enough people to do this project, and that is when Belknap suggested people fill out forms so committees and groups could be formed to help push the project forward.
Hixson then questioned Belknap’s commitment to the project suggesting that it may be a campaign stunt.
“In the newspaper, you’ve said negative things about the city, you’ve said negative things about Dorothy,” Hixson said. “Where are you going to be with the pool after the election?”
Belknap said he would still be involved with the pool regardless of how the election went.
“The timing is horrible. I can’t think of anything negative I’ve said of Dorothy,” Belknap said. “This is not a campaign stunt.”
Knauss then said a community survey revealed that the pool was not on the top of the list of community concerns. Business owner Debbie Akers then pointed out that the top concerns on the list were basic needs like police and firefighters, which are currently being provided by the city.
Leisch suggested that volunteers can do the work and volunteer electricians and other tradesmen can sign off on the work. Barry Thomason said he would like to see what materials are needed and the cost of that.
The issue of what is under the pool in terms of piping, the leaking of water that was costing the city a considerable amount of money and the settling on one corner of the bathhouse were also brought up at the meeting. The idea of just demolishing the current structure and piping and then building a new pool was also suggested.
Frizzell pointed out the extent of the leaking from the pool and the pool equipment that had broken really made it a deal-breaker for the city.
“It leaked 2,500 gallons per day, that’s water pumping out under the ground,” Frizzell said.
Another idea of using the creek to construct a sort of beach area and natural swim spot was floated but WDFW regulations on working on streams was presented as a big challenge.
Leisch said that the first step would be determining how bad the leaking is and the condition of the pipes which would require the use of plumbers and other tradesmen to do testing on that infrastructure. He estimated the initial testing would cost about $25,000.
City council candidate Cori Wuesthoff said that if the testing did not show things were viable for a restoration, then perhaps the pool group could go a different direction with their efforts.
In all, several people agreed the first step was to test to pool’s leaking and make sure this was a financially viable endeavor before moving forward.
Towards the end of the meeting, Hixson said that his comments shouldn’t be considered negative and he was upset that they were being considered negative by Belknap. Disagreeable verbiage was used briefly between the two.
Belknap released his statement about holding off on the pool project this Monday.