Marcus Denny fondly remembers his parents sending him off to the Natatorium for a swim in the summer with a couple of dollars for a stop at Artic Circle on the walk there and an ice cream bar on the way back — and he wants future generations to have the same opportunities as he had.
“I grew up in the pool, like so many members of our community,” said Denny, a Northern Wasco County Parks District board member. “All my friends did. I just want to keep it going to pass on those memories for other kids. I really worry about the current state of the pool. I don’t see it lasting too many more years.”
Voters will have a chance to decide the fate of a proposed swimming pool replacement in The Dalles when they receive ballots in their mailboxes this weekend for the Nov. 5 election.
Northern Wasco County Parks and Recreation District is asking for $3.7 million to replace the existing pool, add a few amenities and relocate the district offices to the Thompson Park site. The estimated average cost to property owners would be about 28.6 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation, or about $4.44 per month on a $150,000 house. The plan is for the bonds to mature in 16 years or less.
The existing pool, known alternatively as the Natatorium and the Ted Walker Memorial Pool, was built in 1938 with Federal Emergency Act Funds. It turns 75 this year and deterioration continues to spread, said Scott Green, parks district executive director.
“It is getting increasingly harder to run,” he said, not only functionally, but on the budget as well. “It’s costing 30 to 33 percent more to run the pool than it has in the past.”
A 2011 video shot in the underground portions of the pool shows a process of ongoing deterioration: rusted, swollen rebar causing more and more cracks in the concrete and calcium deposits from the pool’s many leaks.
“This pool has far exceeded its lifespan,” Green said.
To maintain operation involves more staff time and increasing cost for inspections and repairs to leaks and valves. This year’s water bill was also much higher as the park district tried to stem the flow from the leaks, Green noted.
Special Districts of Oregon, which provides insurance for the district, has also limited what will be covered on the pool as a result of its condition, providing only liability insurance on the pool.
“They have made the statement that closure or opening of the pool is no longer given to the authority of myself and the board,” Green said, meaning structural inspections will be the determining factor. The pool is inspected twice each year, after the pool is drained and rested in the fall and again usually in April in anticipation of the upcoming summer swim season. An inspection is planned for next Monday.
The pool’s proposed replacement would be substantially the same, a 50-meter outdoor pool. The width has been increased a bit to add an eighth lane to create a 25-meter width. The change will add utility to the pool, allowing the width to be used for 25-meter swimming races, Green said, effectively doubling the number of available lanes.
The pool will also feature a movable bulkhead that can divide it in a variety of different configurations. For example, Green said a small area could be sectioned off to allow for swim lessons while the larger portion of the pool remains accessible for other users.
The bond would pay for construction of a new bathhouse, which will also include two-story space for the district offices of about 1,500 square feet, Green said, saving the district about $19,000 a year in office lease costs. The move from their current East Fourth Street offices will better allow district employees to monitor activities at the park, which sees thousands of visits every summer. This year, the pool gave swim lessons to 388 people and had to turn others away, saw an average attendance of 106 for daily open swims, and served as home pool to about 70 swim team members. About 15 regular lap swimmers and several master swimmers in training rounded out the mix.
“It’s probably the most popular program we have,” Green said of the pool. “As a whole, the pool allows more people at one time than anything else.”
The two-story office area would also have a direct view of the Ben Rockwell Memorial Skate Park from its top floor. The access path from the skate park’s parking lot to the second-floor offices will provide the structure’s handicapped accessible entrance.
A concession area is also included in the plans, which could provide not only snacks, but grill foods, too. The concession area at the Pendleton pool generates about $60,000 in revenue, Green said.
The development would include other recreational amenities. The pool would feature a transparent climbing wall, which can be removed for swim meets. Grandstands and a collection of tables with shade umbrellas will also be placed within the pool’s fenced perimeter. Additional picnic tables, some under shade, will be added to the park area outside the pool, surrounding the splash park, which has already been funded through an Oregon State Parks grant.
Minor irrigation system improvements are also planned using bond funding to allow for maintenance of a community lawn area south of the pool.
The Thompson Park design also envisions other amenities that might be funded later through grass roots campaigns, including a water slide and a natural playground comprising rocks, wooden beams and other more natural materials.
Green hopes the added amenities will draw more people to the park and make it more self-sufficient. The plan is substantially modeled after Pendleton’s pool area, which is one of only a few self-sufficient public pools in the state, he said.
“There’s no way we can make it pay for itself without additional opportunities for all family members,” Green said. The Hood River aquatic center, in contrast, is heavily subsidized.
New pool construction methods, which include coated rebar to limit corrosion, will assure that the same kinds of decay problems experienced by the existing pool won’t occur in a new one, Green said. If the bond is approved and if all other factors — permitting time and weather — work in the project’s favor, it is possible the pool could break ground after the 2014 swimming season and be completed before the 2015 season.
Savings in water, repairs, staff time and office leasing, will allow the park district to focus more time on other needed areas, including repairs to the shelter floor at Sorosis Park, and building up existing programs.
“It will allow us to maintain better what we have and improve on it,” Green said.
Pool condition video: