by Rick Langenberg:
The bid for a $7 million aquatic center in downtown Woodland Park met another setback. Last week elected leaders partially shut the door on plans for constructing a large-scale, indoor swimming and spa facility in Memorial Park.
The city council kept their options open for possibly funding a basic design plan for the proposed project, but refused to allocate any specific dollars.
“We all want to see the (aquatic center) project happen, but the real question is how do we pay for it,” said Mayor Dave Turley, who cast the swing tally in approving redesign plans for Memorial Park that don’t include a future aquatic center. The “no aquatic center” park master plan was approved by a 4-3 vote. As a result, swimming facility proponents may have to search for an alternative location in the Woodland Station area or outside the downtown. Earlier plans were presented that would have combined a future aquatic facility with the Woodland Park senior center
Most elected leaders agreed that the aquatic project has not moved forward enough for them to pick a master plan that designated the facility as a key anchor of the future makeover of the downtown park. These redesign plans for Memorial Park would include such assets as a large pavilion and events hub, enhanced picnic areas, considerable green space, special playground equipment and additional recreation features. Similar opinions were voiced by the city’s park and recreation advisory board, which recommended a master plan without the aquatic center, citing the need to preserve green space.
“We are talking about a park,” said Councilman Gary Brovetto, who remained quite skeptical about the addition of an aquatic center facility in the Memorial Park facelift project, during last week’s meeting. “It is Memorial Park. There is not much space.”
“We all support it. How do we fund it?” questioned Councilman Ken Matthews, in explaining the dilemma for the city council in trying to okay park expansion plans that include an aquatic center. Councilwoman Carol Harvey went one step further and questioned the feasibility of adopting a plan for a project that may never get built. For the aquatic center to move forward, she indicated that project proponents may have to get voters to approve some type of additional tax increase.
Earlier in the evening, the council informally discussed ways to support the aquatic center project with city monies during a work session, but didn’t reach a consensus on a specific funding commitment. “We are still wrestling with this,” said Turley.
Mayor Pro Tem Eric Smith, though, strongly endorsed the Memorial Park master plan that included the aquatic center. He believes the design plan with this facility addition would send a key message. “I would like to see us have an aquatic center,” said Smith. “This is the right place for it. I think the place for the aquatic center is downtown Woodland Park. I am for moving forward with the park (makeover project). This is where it (the aquatic center) needs to go,” he added. Smith also made it clear that there is more to a downtown park than just green space.
Similar sentiments were echoed by Councilman Bob Carlsen, who serves on the aquatic center board. “It is an amenity that will draw people,” said Carlsen.
City Manager David Buttery, in a compromise suggestion, recommended that the council de-politicize the issue by not approving any set plan, and instead, let the staff work on the Memorial Park redesign through a phased approach. He noted that the proposed aqua center is located on the property’s northwest corner and wouldn’t represent the initial park enhancement work anyway. With the exception of the aquatic center feature, he said both master plans are fairly similar.
However, most council members wanted to pick one design or the other, citing some significant park enhancement costs with the aqua center project.
Turley, who clearly represented the swing vote, believed that the elected leaders could still probably include the aqua center addition in the park at a later date, if the project moves forward. He said he mainly wanted to pursue improvement plans for Memorial Park, regardless of the status of the aquatic center. “It is our jewel in the community,” said Turley, when discussing Memorial Park.
In the final vote, Turley, Harvey, Brovetto, and Matthews supported the park redesign plan without an aquatic center, while Smith, Carlsen and John Schafer rejected this proposal.
Aqua center still swimming
Despite the vote, the council is still mulling funding options for the aquatic center project in 2014, according to Turley.
The city has a possible pool of $500,000 that it may use for additional projects. Unlike past years, the city next year has significant extra funds it can spend on what Buttery describes as “future opportunities.” But topping the list of funding demands includes the Memorial Park redesign project and a fleet maintenance facility.
The city may still allocate monies for doing a design of a basic aquatic center facility, according to Turley. “This council is ready to roll up its sleeves and work through this,” said the mayor in a later interview. But he cautioned that it doesn’t want to get too ambitious with plans for an aqua facility that it can’t afford. “That is what we have done in the past, and we don’t want to do that again,” said Turley, in discussing a previous controversy over the squandering of close to $1 million in design plans for a proposed 45,000- square-foot YMCA recreation center near city hall that never saw the light of day.
The city plans to approve a budget that will leave its options open for funding some aspect of the aquatic center project next year, according to Turley.