In the community

With new funding, construction could start soon on new Ontario pool

ONTARIO – The Ontario Recreation District has won major funding, which could pave the way for the construction of the long-awaited pool.

The board in charge of spurring economic development awarded the Ontario Recreation Department a grant for more than $900,000 towards the construction of an outdoor pool.

The Eastern Oregon Border Economic Development Board voted unanimously Monday, April 1, to award the $909,793 grant with the stipulation that the district’s board establish a reserve in its budget for maintenance and repairs of the aquatic center, according to Emily Conlon, the border board’s coordinator. Conlon said the district’s reserve practice must satisfy the border board.

Andrew Maeda, director of the Ontario Recreation District, is a member of the border board and recused himself from the vote and discussion.

He said 15 people from the community attended the meeting to show their support. This included Debbie Folden, mayor of Ontario.

The Ontario Recreation District, formed by voters in 2018, has been singularly focused on renovating the pool. The district is a separate entity from the City of Ontario.

The plan is to replace the former indoor pool at Lions Park on Southwest Fourth Avenue with a new outdoor pool. The recreation district began developing plans to take down the Aquatic Center building in Lions Park and leave the pool for outdoor use in 2020.

To begin renovating the old aquatic center, the district needed $3 million in hand to start the bidding process, according to Maeda. He said the district achieved that and has begun the bidding process.

Over the years, the recreation district and pool committee members have gradually chipped away at the cost with fundraisers and donations. Maeda said the project had been a grassroots effort, with countless volunteers donating time and effort.

Local voters passed a transient occupancy tax to fund long-term maintenance and operations of the aquatic center.

Last year a $4.5 million request to fund the construction of the outdoor pool and other facilities in downtown Ontario died in the Oregon Legislature last year amid a six-week Senate Republican walkout that paused the bill in the Joint Ways and Means Committee.

Maeda said the next step is for the district’s construction management team to gather bids from contractors. He said the district is working hard to contract with local companies. Those would be presented to the district’s board at its next meeting to consider setting a maximum price for construction, according to Maeda.

If that is approved, Maeda said, a contractor should be on site at Lions Park on Southwest Fourth Avenue within the next couple of weeks to start with a potential ceremonial groundbreaking in May. The project, he said, could take up to nine months to complete, which means construction would be done this winter, and people could be swimming in the pool by May 2025.

Maeda emphasized that this would be contingent upon those bids coming in at the projected costs the district has budgeted for. He said those could come in higher than expected but stressed the district has a contingency fund to adjust accordingly.

Meanwhile, he said other fundraising efforts are underway for the project’s other phases, including a skatepark, gymnasium and renovation to the tennis courts, among others.

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