Pool Bond Passes on Fourth Attempt

Lachlan Johnson

Voters in the City of Walla Walla voted Tuesday, Feb. 10 to pass a 5.83 million dollar bond measure to rebuild the Walla Walla public pool. Preliminary results from Tuesday evening show 4,323 votes in favor of the bond (63.6% percent) and 2,470 against (36.4% percent). Bond measures in Washington State that raise taxes must pass by a supermajority of over 60 percent.

The money raised by the bond measure will be used to construct a “standard pool” (50 meters by 25 yards), a kid pool with zero-depth entry to accommodate new swimmers and people with disabilities. Other improvements will include a new bathhouse and locker room facilities, a new concession stand, new mechanical systems for both pools and community spaces for special events. Construction is expected to finish in May 2017.

“It has always been the plan of the city to have a pool … A pool’s vital to the community. The temperatures we have here versus the ones you have in Seattle –– kids need a place where they can be safe, enjoy themselves and cool down. They also need a place to learn how to swim,” said Jim Dumont, the director of Walla Walla Parks and Recreation.

This year’s bond measure was the fourth attempt to raise funds to rebuild the public pool. Three previous attempts failed to achieve the supermajority needed to raise taxes in 2004, 2006 and 2012.

The decision to make a fourth attempt to pass a bond measure for the pool was made following the release of a report by Rowley Pool Consultants in May 2014. The report found the old pool, which opened in 1972, was not salvageable. The old pool was closed in 2006 due to poor maintenance and low attendance. The design for the new pool was based on Rowley Pool Consultants’ report, which determined from a survey of Walla Walla residents that a two-pool plan stood a strong chance of passing in a bond measure and would meet the needs of the community at a minimal cost to taxpayers.

The bond measure to rebuild the pool was supported by the grassroots organization Rebuild Memorial Pool, which distributed materials in favor of the bond measure and canvassed voters. Their arguments in favor of the pool focused on the needs of children. Drowning is the second-highest cause of unintentional injury death for children ages one to 14 in the United States. Pool supporters believe a public pool would provide swim lessons to young children who are currently unable to learn. The Walla Walla YMCA provides swim lessons at their indoor pool, but the public pool will provide more space and lower costs.

“We have almost a generation of kids who don’t know how to swim in Walla Walla…. The Y does a good job, but they can’t serve the needs of the entire population,” said Becky Kennedy, who serves as the secretary and part of the leadership of Rebuild Memorial Pool.

Pool supporters also believe the new pool will provide a positive space for local teenagers to gather during the summer. The pool is expected to create 25 new jobs, most of them positions as lifeguards during the summer months.

“[Rebuild Memorial Pool] hopes to fundraise [after the vote] to form a non-profit and potentially reduce some of the taxpayer cost, or if there is a gap when we get the final design to cover that gap,” said Kennedy.

While there was no organized opposition to the bond measure, many voters were opposed to the increase in taxes the bond will create. Opponents also voiced concern over whether the new pool will be properly maintained.

Pool maintenance is estimated to come to 200,000 dollars per year. While the pool is expected to raise 100,000 dollars from entrance fees, programming and concessions, the city will still need to contribute 100,000 dollars in maintenance.

Voter turnout in Tuesday’s elections was low, with only 43 percent of voters mailing in ballots. Final results will be certified on Tuesday, Feb. 24.