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Paynesville Press - March 03, 2004

Pool proposal explained at public meetings

By Bonnie Jo Hanson and Michael Jacobson

In April, residents in the city of Paynesville and Paynesville Township will decide whether or not to build a $1.25 million aquatic park in Paynesville. The ad hoc pool committee, along with their consultant, USAquatics, held two public informational meetings last week to educate the public about the project before voting.

The meetings, held in the school auditorium on Thursday night and again on Sunday afternoon, attracted a combined attendance of about 75 local residents.

Aquatic Park Features
The location, features, and design of the proposed aquatic park were picked by the ad hoc pool committee, consisting of city members Urban Fuchs, Mary Janotta, Ron Mergen, Kyle Nehowig, Cliff Rossler, and Bob See and township members Greg Hansen, Lonnie Lien, Laurey Malling, and Brad Skoglund. Plus, township clerk Don Wiese and city administrator Steve Helget both served as nonvoting members.

The proposed aquatic park would be located on school property next to the high school student parking lot. The #1 feature of the aquatic park, which will have 6,534 sq. ft. of pool area, is heated water, said Bill Deneen, an engineer with USAquatics who guided the feasibility study and who gave a summary of the pool proposal at the information meetings.

This feature is easy to overlook but is really important because with heated water the public will be able to use the aquatic park as soon as the weather warms each summer, whereas it takes a month of warm weather to heat lake water, said Deneen. Heated water provides an outdoor aquatic park with an estimated season, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, of nearly 100 days.

Some outdoor facilities open even earlier in May and stay open longer in September, said Deneen, and are even used by schools for swimming lessons. But the main factor in operating a facility for longer than Memorial Day to Labor Day is having lifeguards available, since many will likely be students.

Other park features, explained Deneen, are a flume slide (with at least two turns to keep people interested); a diving well with a drop slide and diving board; a competition-length lap pool (for water aerobics, lap swimming, and swimming lessons); and a zero-depth (beach-style) area with shallow waters and children's play features.

The goal, said Deneen, is to create a family-friendly facility, to create a place where grandparents can bring their grandchildren for an afternoon, where children of all ages can have fun, and which has shade areas for adults to watch their kids, grass play areas to use as a break from swimming, and picnic areas to eat concessions.

An aquatic park tries to offset its operating expenses by keeping people swimming longer, thus keeping patrons at the park, so they buy concessions, and by attracting return visits.

Indoor vs. Outdoor
The same pool, with the same features, as an indoor facility would cost at least $3 to $3.5 million to build, said Deneen. And this would be for a stand-alone indoor pool, which would be uncommon, added Deneen. Most communities build an indoor pool as part of a recreation center, which adds to the cost.

Operating costs for an indoor pool are also greater, according to Deneen. His firm also works with Lake Crystal, also a city of just over 2,000 people that has an indoor pool. In 2002, that pool had $679,900 in expenses, resulting in a $338,000 operating deficit that was covered by the city ($218,800) and through fundraising ($119,200).

Property Tax Impact
The city of Paynesville and Paynesville Township have agreed to split the cost for the proposed $1.25 million aquatic park on a basis of 62 percent for the city and 38 percent for the township, a ration based on the respective populations of the city and township. That means the city's share would be $775,000 and the township's share would be $475,000.

All property tax estimates for the bonding issue - which voters in the city and township will approve or reject on Tuesday, April 20 - have been revised. Since this is a referendum, neither ag land nor seasonal property would be subject to property taxes in the city or township if the pool project is approved, explained Helget.

For agricultural homesteads, only the house, garage, and one acre of property would be subject to tax for the pool project. The exclusion of ag land and seasonal properties resulted in increases for other property tax payers in the city and township.

Revised tax estimates (based on 15-year bonding) for the city are: $70.42 per year for a $100,000 residential homestead (up from $68.46); $88.02 per year for a $125,000 residential homestead (up from $85.58); $105.63 per year for a $150,000 residential homestead (up from $102.69); $70.42 per year for a $100,000 commercial/industrial property (up from $68.46); $352.09 per year for a $500,000 commercial/industrial property (up from $342.31); and $633.76 per year for a $900,000 commercial/industrial property (up from $616.15).

Revised tax estimates for the township are: $45.43 per year for a $100,000 residential homestead (up from $22.64); $56.79 per year for a $125,000 residential homestead (up from $28.30); $68.15 per year for a $150,000 residential homestead (up from $33.96); $45.43 per year for a $100,000 commercial/industrial property (up from $22.64); $227.17 per year for a $500,000 commercial/ industrial property (up from $113.20); and $408.91 per year for a $900,000 commercial/industrial property (up from $203.77).

(These township tax estimates are based on 15-year bonding, though the township board has not decided yet on how long it will bond.)

Questions & Answers
At the meeting on Thursday night, questions centered not on the building costs and the tax consequences, but on the fees for using such a facility and whether such a facility would operate as well as projected, with a number of people doubting that it would.

In the feasibility study for the aquatic park, USAquatics estimated that such a facility would have $66,250 in yearly expenses. Using estimates of $1.50 for daily admissions and $1 per patron per day for concessions, the aquatic park would need to average 295 patrons per day over a 90-day summer season to break even. (Typically, there are around 100 days between Memorial Day and Labor Day each year, depending on when they occur. USAquatics figured 90 days of good weather, on average, for swimming.) Actual fees for Paynesville Area Aquatic Park have not been set.

While several audience members on Thursday doubted that the facility would fare this well, Deneen said that a similar facility in Tracy had average daily attendances between 400 and 450 in its first year. Albert Lea tripled the daily attendance at its city pool when it switched to an aquatic park, as did West St. Paul, Deneen added.

"There's quite a radius without a pool. People will come to use it," predicted Deneen. "When they come, they'll stop for gas; they'll buy groceries; they'll do all kinds of things."

At Sunday's meeting, local resident Bob Meyer questioned operating figures for an aquatic park in Glencoe, given by pool committee member Ron Mergen on Thursday, saying Glencoe was much bigger than Paynesville and wondering if they could not break even charging $3 per day how could Paynesville.

Glencoe's aquatic park lost $20 from operations in 2001 and showed a $1,662 profit in 2002.

Helget said on Sunday that it was possible that the aquatic park, which would be run solely by the city (after joint construction with the township), would need to be subsidized. After all, the goal is not to make money but to cover operating costs as much as possible. An aquatic park is the best option to do that, he added.

An operating deficit of $1,000 per year is no big deal, said city resident Ian Pelton on Sunday.

Lifeguards at the city beach currently cost the city more annually.

Other questions on Sunday were about the expected life of the facility (at least 30 to 40 years, depending on how it is operated and maintained, said Deneen); about whether the annual budget includes maintenance costs (it does); about whether the school wants an indoor pool (it has not shown any interest recently in one); about safety (the facility will have a half dozen or so lifeguards and security lighting at night); and about cost overruns.

If the elections pass in April, the city and township will only have $1.25 million in combined financing for the project. The project will be bid as a base package (expected to cost around $1.25 million) with alternates (in the range of another $150,000). If bids are low, then the project could include some of the alternates, like a second slide or more play features, said Deneen.

If the bids are more than $1.25 million, then they would have to decide to either scale back the project, cancel it, or somehow pay the difference. Both the city council and the township board, per their agreement, have the authority to reject the bids. If either election fails, then only part of the financing will exist for the project, said Helget, meaning neither the city or township could proceed with the project alone.

If both votes pass on Tuesday, April 20, the schedule is to complete the engineering details by July, bid the project in August, start construction in the fall, and continue through the winter. The Paynesville Area Aquatic Park could be ready to open by Memorial Day in 2005.

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