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Incumbents Simms, Helpenstell consider growth, pool
Running unopposed, two South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District commissioners will return for four-year terms.
Mark Helpenstell and Matt Simms, both longtime South Whidbey residents have conservative growth on their minds for the parks district. Both are major supporters of building an aquatics center and examining running Holmes Harbor Golf Course.
Filling in for an appointed term, Helpenstell has served the district for two years.
The 56-year-old Boeing employee is a bit of an action junky. He coaches youth soccer, has officiated games and is president of the South Whidbey Youth Soccer Club. Overseeing the parks district is a form of service for Helpenstell.
“It’s a necessary thing for the people in our community to give back,” he said. “My primary concern is creating as many opportunities for our youths as possible.”
Funding and building an aquatics center is one of his top priorities. He described himself as a major supporter of bringing a pool to South Whidbey, but tempered his enthusiasm with the understanding that the district is not sitting on a pile of cash with which to pay for the major project.
“I would love to coach a swim team,” Helpenstell said. “The financial stresses are going to continue to produce … I’m not sure if they’re challenges or opportunities.”
That said, he was supportive of making sure South Whidbey Parks had enough money to properly maintain its current properties and facilities before considering expansion.
“I’d hate to take on a new expense at the deficit of existing facilities and programs,” Helpenstell said.
Having served six years as a parks commissioner, Simms remembers the voter rejection of the aquatics center bond.
He also remembers the support he heard from neighbors and friends. They wanted a pool then, and they want a pool now.
“We have a chance to build out and reach more people with parks and parks programs,” Simms said.
Pool plans are alive and well, although modified from the $15 million proposal back in 2008. He is one of the commissioners looking into redesigning the aquatics center and finding funding for a modified plan. A new proposal would likely be between $3 million and $4 million for a pool and rooms for other activities totaling about 20,000 square feet, but not a full-blown recreation center.
Recently, he has worked on the district’s comprehensive plan, the guiding document for park business and expansion. He also worked with staff on the upcoming 2014 budget.
And though he supports the district pursuing a pool, he empathized with voters and taxpayers about asking for more money. Adding burden to the district’s staff, which is smaller than when he began as a commissioner, was another thing he wanted to avoid.
“We’ve got to maintain that in a fiscally responsible way,” he said.
“We’ve stretched people thinner and run the life of capital equipment.”