Friday, February 2, 2007

Rec District eyes year-round swimming

Organization weighs costs of enclosing existing pool


By TREVOR SCHUBERT
Express Staff Writer

Blaine County Recreation District Executive Director Wally Morgus discusses options and obstacles aquatic center upgrades pose to the district. Photo by David N. Seelig

The Blaine County Recreation District is thinking about getting its feet wet—again.

The district's board hashed over plans to upgrade the Blaine County Aquatic Center in Hailey during its regular meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 31.

In particular, the district is looking at options and is mapping out steps necessary to place a long overdue cover on the public outdoor pool, a move that would allow year-round use of the facility.

"From all I have heard, the community really wants a year-round aquatic center," said Wally Morgus, executive director of the district.

The notion of placing a permanent cover on the public pool, located near the Community Campus in Hailey, is not a new idea. When the pool was built in 1985, the original plans called for an enclosure at a future date. Unanticipated construction and operation costs sidelined immediate enclosure plans. In addition, development of the Wood River Trails system—managed by the district—moved the enclosure further down the list of priorities.

In 1999, the issue was revisited with an $11.8 million bond for improvement of recreation facilities throughout the valley. The public defeated the bond proposal.

Now that the district is seeking to resurrect the idea and appears determined to provide Wood River residents with a year-round aquatic center, a new set of obstacles must be overcome.

For one, the expansion of the pool facility requires the approval of two applications.

As it stands, "the pool is located in a Limited Residential district, and the pool is not a permitted use," said Diane Shay, Hailey city planner and flood plain administrator. "(The district) will have to apply for a rezone."

The proposed expansion—in this case the "expanded use" the pool will see during winter months—requires the structure to be in compliance with the city, Shay said.

The area would have to be rezoned from Limited Residential to Recreational/Green Belt zoning. According to Hailey ordinance, R/GB zoning is intended to provide areas for public recreation, to preserve green space for aesthetic and public use, or both.

Under R/GB zoning, the district must also apply for either a text amendment or a conditional use permit. The difference between the two is somewhat complex, but, in short, a text amendment means "the pool will be flat out permitted use," while a conditional use permit would give the city more discretion, Shay said.

The state of Idaho has set standards for conditional use permits. The standards ensure that a plan is in accord with the city's comprehensive plan, not hazardous to the existing or future community, adequately served by ambulance and other emergency response teams, not detrimental and does not bring excessive traffic, noise and the like to the surrounding neighborhood, Shay said.

Parking issues will also have to be addressed before the city grants approval.

"Parking is probably the biggest issue," Shay said.

City ordinance requires only one parking space per 1,000 square feet of gross building area. The pool would require more parking and could potentially compete with the other programs at the Community Campus. The city and the district want to ensure that the surrounding neighborhood will not become inundated with pool-related parking.

"We may need some swim-parking-only sections," Morgus said.

The other major question on the table is the structure itself. The district is hoping to place an aluminum-framed structure with UV protective glass and a retractable roof over the existing pool. According to Dave Keir, director of partnerships and outreach for the district, the current bid comes in at roughly $150 per square foot. That brings the total cost for the 100-by-140 foot structure to $2 million.

"That doesn't include any pool renovations," Keir said. Renovations could bring the project to nearly $3 million.

"That seems really out-of-whack when compared to building a greenhouse," said Mark Gilbreath, secretary treasurer for the district.

"These are very preliminary numbers," Keir said.

The district will continue to investigate options.

Again, no final decisions have been reached. Nor have any applications been filed with either the Hailey City Council or P&Z.

Eventually, the decision will rest in the hands of the public.

At the earliest, the district would place a potential levy in front of voters during the 2008 election cycle, Morgus said.




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