Cost scaled back for recreational aquatic center

Architects and members of a steering committee have brought the cost down by about $10 million.

Following the news of a hefty increase in the estimated price for a proposed recreational aquatic facility, architects for the project and members of a steering committee have successfully brought the cost down by about $10 million.

The South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District will ask voters in November to approve a $27 million bond for the project, which is expected to be completed in 2025 if the bond passes. The rate is 17 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. For a homeowner whose assessed value is $500,000, this amounts to a monthly increase of about $7, or $85 per year.

At its last meeting in August, the park and rec district’s board of commissioners learned that the cost estimate for the facility was a whopping $37 million. Since then, compromises in the design plans have been made in order to return to the $27 million price.

Commissioner Matt Simms, who sits on the advisory committee that offers recommendations about the project, said changes include decreasing the number of levels in the building from a total of two to just one. An elevated indoor walking track, which had been planned for the second floor, will be taken out of the design. Instead, people will be able to traverse an outdoor ADA trail running around the perimeter of the building.

“It just made a ton of sense when we looked at it,” Simms said. “We knew we had to make compromises, we knew we had to pull it out of the building, but could we replicate the function?”

The ADA trail will be wide, smooth and easy to navigate. According to Simms, the first ADA trail built in Island County was constructed at Trustland Trails, a park owned and operated by the district.

Sometime in the future, a second phase of the project – not funded by the bond – will include multiple indoor sport courts and the elevated indoor walking track. Simms said the additional building will be about the same size as the recreational aquatic facility, which has a footprint of 20,000 square feet.

Making these sacrifices ensures the preservation of other elements of the facility, such as the two pools – one for lap swimming and one for instruction – and sustainability features, such as the incorporation of solar panels to create resilient power so the aquatic center can continue to operate in the case of a significant power outage.

In addition, the building’s form and exterior appearance will be kept the same, which means the district won’t have to explore a completely new technique of building. Previously, an architectural membrane, instead of traditional building materials like lumber and steel, had been discussed.

“We’re just indebted to all those people who for a month rolled up their sleeves and found a way (and) got us back on the budget, and back on track,” Simms said.

The district is partnering with a nonprofit organization, the South Whidbey Parks and Aquatics Foundation, to complete the project. Simms said hundreds of community members have visited the foundation’s informational booths at farmers markets over the past few weeks, offering their input.

Updated renderings of the recreational aquatic facility will be shown at upcoming informational sessions about the bond led by district staff. The first is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Sept. 14 at Langley United Methodist Church.