A group of Skagway residents has been working on plans for a recreation center expansion for years. When they brought a proposal that included a pool to the assembly in late 2015, the price tag caused concern. The assembly recommended they get a second opinion. Armed with more information, the recreation center and pool proponents brought their case back to the assembly.
A year ago, the push to pursue a recreation center expansion and pool sank under anxiety about spending money on another major project.
In the time since then, the rec center board worked with Architects Alaska to get a second opinion on design and cost. And a pool ad hoc committee brought experts to town to envision the best pool for Skagway.
Rec center Director Katherine Nelson walked the assembly through the history of the facility and the effort to expand it.
“We are very successful, and success comes at a cost,” Nelson said. “We’re so busy, we sometimes in the summertime have so many people that it’s becoming unsafe in the weight room. There’s just not enough space, so they take weights and they start using the gym floor. And so we’re so busy that we really need to expand.”
Nelson presented the ‘second opinion’ her committee received from Architects Alaska. The new design cuts down excessive space and does not include a hot tub and sauna. But the cost estimate is still steep: $16.8 million. More than half of that comes from the aquatic center portion of the project.
Consultants from USA Swimming came to Skagway last April to brainstorm what kind of pool would best suit Skagway’s needs.
“We confirmed that a four-lane pool and a therapy learn-to-swim pool is essential to fulfill the basic programming needs of Skagway,” Nelson said.
The rec board and pool committee also presented a proposal for how to pay for the $17 million project. They suggested general obligation bonds paid for by a one percent year-round retail sales tax increase, excluding residential and commercial rent payments.
“We feel that the work that we’ve done has allowed us to get really specific and fine-tune a design that a facility that Skagway will use,” Nelson concluded.
During the discussion about a rec center and pool last year, the assembly did consider a one percent sales tax increase. But disagreement among assembly members over whether the tax hike should go toward just the rec center or major projects in general killed the proposal.
The rec center and pool are back before the assembly. But worries about Skagway overcommitting itself financially are still there. The response from members of the public and assembly members echoed the same concerns people had a year ago.
“I think we should hit the pause button on a lot of these projects,” said Jan Wrentmore. “They’re great projects, I would love to see them. But I don’t know that this is the time.”
“It’s about your kids and their future,” said Tim Bourcy. “And what are you saddling them with?”
Assembly member Orion Hanson was also hesitant about spending, especially considering uncertainty around the future of the port.
But residents Andrew Cremata and Simon Vansintjan said the rec center expansion could benefit Skagway’s economy by keeping people in town year-round.
“I just want to say that we moved to town in March and the rec center is hands-down what’s gonna keep us in town,” said Vansintjan.
Assemblyman Jay Burnham has advocated for the expansion from the beginning. He said the community needs this.
“As far as saddling people with the responsibility 30 years out to pay for this, if one of them learns to swim and they save themselves from drowning out in any of these bodies of water around here, I think it’s paid for itself,” Burnham said.
The rec center expansion will come back to the assembly at a future meeting, where they may make a formal decision about whether to move forward with the project.