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A Recipe for Disaster

Island Life
 Indoor/ outdoor 50 meter pool with a removable roof, Bend, Oregon.
Indoor/ outdoor 50 meter pool with a removable roof, Bend, Oregon.

It was kind of like old home week the other day. Not the other day at the Vashon Park District commissioners meeting- that is pretty much always like a combination of Dick Cheney, "no torture here" waterboarding sessions combined with failed attempts at personal improvement through firewalking and napping on beds of nails. What I’m talking about here is a visit to the King County Aquatics Center in Federal Way, where I was along for the ride to offer moral and lap counting support for Wendy’s pre- open water swim season warm up at the Pacific Northwest Association of Masters Swimmers winter short course championships. I realized after I had been hanging out on the deck for awhile that it had been exactly 30 years ago that I had read about the then upcoming PNA champs and had gone to the Pavilion Pool at the U Dub to watch and talk with coaches about my getting back in the pool again after 10 years away. As it turned out, a number of people that I swam with and against way back then are still around and still making waves- both there in Federal Way and elsewhere. The repeated question I was asked of course was: are you swimming?
 
Other than that question, these conversations were fun, laced with remembrances of past competitions. But the most interesting and enlightening conversation I had was with Bob Bruce, or Coach Bob as he is known to the folks in the Central Oregon Masters Association, or COMA as it is more affectionately known. It all started when I asked him how they did it- the it being an amazing aquatics facility in Bend that includes an indoor pool, and an indoor/ outdoor 50 meter pool with a removable roof and a training and exercise facility. What he told me was they knew it was going to be a hard sell to the community of 80,000 residents- an $8 million pool project might seem a bit extreme to some. They knew going in that voter approval would be difficult, so they took out a loan and built it. Then they marketed the heck out of what the facility had to offer, and in looking at the current budget information on the Bend Parks and Rec website, they are showing that the improvements that they made to this facility "…have greatly assisted in supporting a cost recovery increase from 64% in 2004-05 to an annual average of 82-86%". Some might call this extraordinary, and they do, as the Bend parks experience is held up as an example to the rest of us- they did get a national gold medal award for excellence in Park and Rec management.
 
It would have been nice if the attempts to cover the pool here had passed when it came up for a vote years ago. But at the time, the addition of amenities- sauna, jacuzzi, weight room- to the overall package design were seen as frivolous extras as opposed necessary additions to draw in more people. We could have been taking advantage of year round indoor, and perhaps outdoor swimming as well. One of the recent proposals to cover the Island pool with a removable roof similar to Bend’s Juniper Facility showed a cost somewhere in the $700-$900 thousand range, somewhere in the realm of a half to a third of what has been spent on the VES field project, which according to various opinions voiced at last night’s commissioners’ meeting is in danger of not being completed, and therefore not yielding the matching grants expected at completion, which would threaten the existence of the entire Vashon Park District. If one takes a peek at the latest iteration of the VPD budget, available at the VPD website, one can see that in the income column, the pool is showing expected revenue of $62,500, which is for three months of operating time. If one looks in the expected income column for the VES fields, which it would seem, because of their superior engineering and weather resistant drainage, should be open all the year ‘round, one sees nothing at all except a hyphen.
 
While one is paying a visit to the VPD site, one could also go to the "VES Master Plan" page, the beige colored hypertext link for which can be found when scrolling down the home page and stopping just before one gets to the three donation buttons. Traveling to the master plan, one can scroll through lots of words about the project to pictures of the fields as they were. While they are not necessarily representations of things of beauty, they certainly look like functional fields to me, and certainly more than adequate for the $0 return in revenue indicated in the budget. One might ask if a situation might not be in the offing similar to the one anticipated in some quarters in the great Seattle tunnel boondoggle. Like the high tolls suggested for using the tunnel potentially forcing drivers to seek cheaper alternates on surface routes through downtown, if fees were charged for the use of the VES field that were commensurate with the cost of its completion, wouldn’t everyone just go and play somewhere else? On the other hand, as far as I have heard, other than raising user fees system wide, there are no plans to increase VPD revenues through the use of these fields, and even if there were such plans, it seems dubious that they would come anywhere near generating enough of a return for even a partial recovery of costs for this nightmare.
 
At Tuesday night’s meeting a new member to the recently formed oversight committee, Mitch Treese- a construction professional, reported on walking the site the day before this past meeting, and he noted that all of the projects he observed that were listed as important to completion were behind schedule, some significantly tardy. He spoke of the rigid abyss of the deadline and the possible loss of the $152K in matching grant funding. He noted that while volunteers were helpful, they could not get the job done as quickly and efficiently as professionals, who he believes would have a better chance of meeting the deadline, but with an additional cost - not available or budgeted for- of at least $50K. He also said that the currently underfunded and understaffed manner in which this project is being carried out is a recipe for disaster. There was a call somewhere for some hard decisions to be made by the board, but that was lost somewhere in discussions of caretakers bringing towels to holiday renters at the lighthouse. Anyone have any nautical deck furniture they want rearranged? The VPD commissioners have plenty of experience with that.