In the community

Rec district seeks city partnership for pool, asks public input

Ontario Pool District director Andrew Maeda at the Ontario indoor pool complex. (The Enterprise/file)

ONTARIO – The Pool Committee of the Ontario Recreation District will go before the Ontario City Council later this month to ask for money for its signature project, a renovated outdoor community pool.

While the Recreation District has its own budget of around $600,000 per year through a property tax in Ontario, Executive Director Andrew Maeda said that the potential partnership with the city could be key to starting construction on the pool in the summer as planned.

Adam Brown, Ontario city manager, said the request for money may provoke some consternation among councilors. The city previously handled the responsibilities now managed by the recreation district using a smaller budget.

 “When the pool was open, it wasn’t given the proper attention and maintenance that it needed. When the city was spending $330,000 [a year], it wasn’t enough,” Brown said.

The plans for the new pool including demolishing the existing aquatic center, which has been out of use since 2013, and restoring the pool to outdoor use.

There will also be new lockers and restrooms constructed. Design West, the architecture firm which has been working with the recreation district, has estimated that the project will cost about $2.7 million. 

The Pool Committee hopes to secure up to 80% of that amount by May. This goal, while optimistic, would allow the committee to break ground on the project this year and open the pool for the summer of 2022. By then, district officials say, Covid restrictions should have eased.  

Maeda said that to save enough to have a reserve for the project, he would like to raise $3.2 million. To do so, he said, the Pool Committee is pursuing multiple sources of funding.

The bulk of the money, between $900,000 and $1.2 million, will come through the property tax collected by the recreation district. Approximately 55% of the tax is allocated to the aquatic center, totaling around $300,000 a year.

The actual figure apportioned to the pool project will vary depending on how much money it costs to operate the new Splash Park, a sum which Maeda said had been difficult to ascertain due to pandemic-affected attendance last summer. 

Another fundraising strategy is to pursue partnerships with neighboring communities like Fruitland and Nyssa, which might contribute money to be allowed to use the pool at the same rates as recreation district residents.

Maeda also said that he plans to solicit partnerships and donations from the large chain businesses which operate in the Ontario area, like Walmart, WinCo, Home Depot, and Albertsons. 

“They benefit a lot from our small communities,” Maeda said. “We’re going to pursue those major areas before small businesses,” which he recognized are hurting due to the pandemic.

Another potential partnership and source of funding that Maeda is exploring is the YMCA, which operates pools in Caldwell and Baker City. If the Pool Committee moves forward with negotiating a deal, the YMCA might come in to help manage staffing and operations at the reopened Ontario pool. Maeda said that would help shorten the Pool Committee’s “learning curve” in operations.

Finally, there’s the potential partnership with the city of Ontario. Maeda said the final sum that would be requested at the Jan. 19 meeting was still being calculated, but he pointed out that the success of the recreation district aligns with the city’s strategic plan for the community.

Maeda said that affordability is another priority.

“We must do our best to ensure all youth can learn the very important lifelong skill of swimming, and that our adults and seniors are given the opportunity to improve their own physical and emotional health,” he said. “We do not want the cost of attendance, or program restraints to limit any population from using the facility.”

Maeda encouraged Ontario residents to attend the pool presentation on Jan. 19 via Facebook livestream, and voice their views via social media or by calling in.

“We want our city councilors and our city to know that we’re not asking for our help because it’s just the recreation district’s perspective,” Maeda said. “We’re doing this because we’re getting an overwhelming amount of questions from community members themselves.”

News tip? Contact reporter Liliana Frankel at [email protected] or 267-981-5577.

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