Northwest NEWS

May 1, 2000

Front Page

Dream of Valley pool evaporates

Study concludes facility not economically feasible

by Lisa Allen, Valley View editor

   CARNATION--The Valley Recreation Association (VRA) has given up its goal of building a swimming pool and recreation center in the Snoqualmie Valley. The organization made the decision to abandon the project after a research study concluded that operating the facility would not be financially feasible.

   "Results of the study indicated that the annual cost of operating the proposed facility would be about $200,000 more than it could generate in user fees," VRA President Jeff Spencer said last week.

   Spencer, who is also pastor of Tolt Congregational United Church of Christ, said a vote to disband the VRA at the last meeting was unanimous after receiving the results of the study, done by Hebert Research of Bellevue.

   "Over the years, we learned that swimming pools are very expensive to run," said Spencer. "So we hoped to make it work by adding a recreational facility that people would pay to use. The study said there is a lot of support, but the population just isn't large enough to pay for the maintenance of the facility."

   The action concludes over 20 years of effort by the Eastman-Rush Foundation, which became the VRA in 1998. The organization was created after two Valley youths, Steve Rush and John Eastman, drowned in separate swimming accidents in the early 1970s.

   The Eastman-Rush Foundation began with high hopes of building a community swimming pool, but during one point, went so far as to create conceptual plans for a vast facility that not only held a pool, but athletic rooms, a teaching kitchen, and meeting places for the Snoqualmie Tribe.

   When the foundation became the VRA in 1998, new board members decided a needs assessment was warranted in order to learn whether a swimming pool combined with a recreation center could support itself in the Lower Valley. Hebert Research also did the needs assessment, which found that community members wanted indoor basketball courts, meeting rooms, and weight rooms as part of a recreational center. The VRA then asked the consultants to determine whether the proposed facility could support itself.

   Spencer said the results of the marketing study concluded that "over 75 percent of the Lower Valley population wants a swimming pool and recreation center. Additionally, 28 percent of the households would be willing to pay $39 per month to be able to use it, generating about $620,000 in annual revenue. The study also estimated that the swimming pool and recreation center would cost $800,000 to $900,000 per year to operate and maintain, which results in a $200,000 deficit."

   Spencer said a pool and center would cost about $4-$8 million to build and that there are grants available to help with those costs, but they don't exist for operation and maintenance. Although most people surveyed said they preferred the center to be in Carnation rather than Duvall, the lack of sewers could pose a problem, he said.

   Spencer said the study looked at memberships, sales of concessions, leasing to schools, use by private swim teams, and renting space. Regarding community support on a possible bond issue, he remarked that the school district "can't get tax money to finish the performing arts center or pass an athletic bond. I can't see the community creating another taxing authority."

   After considering the results of the study, the board, consisting of Spencer, Laree Shanda, Laurie Minaglia, Nona Diediker, and Penny Zeller, voted to end the efforts.

   Of the funds the organization holds, Spencer said, "we (the VRA) will disburse our assets in compliance with state and federal law."

   Spencer and Shanda said they and the other board members are "disappointed" at the outcome, and hope that as the population in the Valley grows, it will eventually support a private swimming pool and recreation center.

   "In the future, there will probably be sewers in Carnation and a larger population base that will make it viable," Spencer said. "It would have been irresponsible to pretend it would work. It is just not the right time for this. When it is, maybe we can begin again. I would love to see King County Parks do it."

   Copies of the needs assessment and marketing studies have been placed in the Duvall, Carnation, and Fall City libraries. Community meetings have also been scheduled. Meetings will be held on May 23 in the Carnation Fire Station, on May 24 at the Duvall Fire Station, and on May 25 at the Fall City United Methodist Church, all at 7 p.m.