B.G. seeks path to a public pool

Local leaders form task force, ask what project would need

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BATTLE GROUND — Battle Ground is testing the waters to see if there’s community interest in spending millions of dollars to build a public swimming pool.

A task force of community leaders steered by City Councilman Mike Ciraulo is joining forces to map a path for a pool’s development. Even though the project would likely require the city to issue between $10 million and $15 million in bonds, Ciraulo is confident it won’t be unpopular.

Overall, the project would likely cost $20 million to $30 million, with about half the money coming from donations.

“Overwhelmingly, everyone says, yes, they’d be willing to pay off a bond,” Ciraulo said. “That being said, there’s a compelling argument that if we could raise enough money from donors, it could offset how much the city needs to bond.”

The project calls for developing two pools. One would be an Olympic-sized lap pool. The other would be kept warmer and used for recreation.

There are no plans for the city to try to pass a bond package in the near future, Ciraulo said, and the city hasn’t done a formal market survey to see whether such a proposal would have support. Nonetheless, creation of a community pool task force is a sign that a handful of Battle Ground organizers are willing to reconsider developing a pool complex.

Serious talk of building a publicly owned swimming complex last took place five years ago but quickly subsided in the recession, which put a clamp on bonding opportunities. Project backers have bided their time, waiting for an opportunity to move ahead.

Developing a pool would require buy-in from three partners: The city, the Battle Ground School District and the YMCA. The city would seek voter approval to issue the bonds, which would partially pay for the project, and the school district would supply the land at no cost.

Outsource operations

The YMCA would manage the pool’s day-to-day operations, because it would be too expensive for the city to do it, Ciraulo said

More and more cities have looked to the YMCA to manage their pools, said Bob Hall, CEO of the YMCA of the Columbia-Willamette.

In Vancouver, the YMCA runs its own swimming pool as part of its Orchards club.

Battle Ground’s task force has looked to Sherwood, Ore., as an example of a city with a community pool run by the YMCA. That pool has been operating in the black for a decade.

“For most cities to build and operate a pool, it’s a sinkhole,” Hall said. “It costs all sorts of money that has to come out of the general fund.”

He said the YMCA would have to balance the pool’s budget and wouldn’t be able to dip into the city’s reserves.

It’s not the only idea on the table, however. In an alternative proposal, which wouldn’t require partnering with the school district, Battle Ground would attempt to obtain financing through the New Markets Tax Credits program, dispensed by the U.S. Treasury Department.

But there’s no guarantee that the city would receive any money through the highly competitive program.

Under the terms of the partnership, Battle Ground residents would pay a reduced rate to use the pool, while Battle Ground schools would have first rights to use it during the school year.

No formal agreements exist between the city and the school district, said Mary Beth Lynn, the district’s assistant superintendent.

She said city officials and the school district have talked, but nothing has been settled.

Ciraulo plans to talk to the school board in late August, he said, to further hash out a tentative agreement.

“Everyone would like a pool,” he said. “But we’re cautious about the financial burden on the citizens.”

Tyler Graf: 360-735-4517; http://twitter.com/col_smallcities; tyler.graf@columbian.com