Should Skagway build a multi-million dollar pool? At a borough assembly meeting last week, about a dozen residents spoke in favor of expanding the Skagway Recreation Center to include a pool. But the assembly decided to get a better handle on how expensive it would be and how to pay for it before making a decision.
The proposed rec center expansion includes more room for exercise machines, physical therapy rooms, and a daycare area. But it’s the pool that some Skagway residents see as the most important addition.
“I think it’s crazy how many people in this town, where we live on water, that cannot swim,” said resident Beth Smith. “And it’s frightening because it is a survival skill that everyone should have.”
Smith had her daughter Addison backing her up.
“I think we should have a pool cause it’s fun and I really want to know how to swim,” she said. “And we shouldn’t have to go to Haines to have swim lessons and go on that long ferry ride.”
Teaching children and adults how to swim was the main reason many gave for supporting the pool. Orion Hanson said it would also be therapeutic.
“There are a lot of men in this town who have a lot of bumps and bruises and broken bones and worn out backs,” Hanson said. “And when you get in your 50s and 60s, you know, I see how hard my dad hurts and swimming is one thing he can do.”
A few of the pool supporters said the municipality should raise sales tax one percent during construction to pay for the project. The engineers contracted to design the expansion plans, NorthWind, estimate it will cost between five and twenty million dollars, depending on whether a pool and other aspects are included. Resident Nola Lamken said she was surprised by the price tag.
“I hope that you feel very certain before you decide to build it that we can sustain the payments,” Lamken said.
The assembly wasn’t certain about the financial picture. They talked about how, aside from the millions needed for construction, it could cost anywhere from $500,000 to $900,000 each year to operate and maintain the facility.
Assemblyman Tim Cochran said raising the mill rate on property taxes might be another avenue to finance the expansion.
“It’s not gonna be a popular one, but there are sacrifices that have to be made to undertake a project like this,” he said.
Assembly member Steve Burnham Jr. said he wasn’t sure about NorthWind’s cost estimates. He suggested the assembly get a second opinion.
“I mean if somebody tells me I need a heart transplant, I’m going to talk to somebody else and see if they agree,” Burnham said. “So before we move down the path of spending 12 million to 20 million dollars, we need to find out if that’s really what we should be looking at.”
Burnham said the assembly shouldn’t rush to draw up an ordinance to raise sales tax or mill rates too quickly. He said it’s important to make sure the public is on board, “because we’ve failed too many times in the last couple years on that.”
If the assembly decided sales tax or mill rates hikes were the best option, it would require a public vote. Borough Clerk Emily Deach says she is currently drafting an oridinance for a one percent sales tax increase, although she doesn’t know which meeting it will be included in.
While the assembly didn’t take any action on the rec center expansion, it did approve a master planning proposal on another big project: the solid waste, recycling, public works and RV Park Master Plan. The $164,000 contract with Corvus Design covers planning, a site survey and geotechnical investigation.
Steve Burnham Jr. made a motion at the end of the three-hour meeting to direct all borough committees and boards to meet in assembly chambers. He said meeting in assembly chambers could give more opportunity for public involvement since some of the locations where boards hold meetings don’t have much space for extra people. The assembly approved the motion 4-2, with Cochran and Spencer Morgan voting against. Deach says some of the boards that don’t currently meet in assembly chambers are the clinic board, library board, and rec center board.
Finally, the assembly scheduled a meeting with Gateway Project Manager Chad Gubala to go over progress on the waterfront project in the wake of the tidelands lease vote. That meeting is this Friday at 4 p.m.