Sink or swim? Survey looks at public pool programs

Community members have until April 1 to answer questions about what programs they would like to see at a proposed aquatics center.

Members of a consulting team are using an online survey to test the waters on a proposed South Whidbey public aquatic center.

Community members have until April 1 to answer questions regarding which programs they would like to see at a facility. The survey can be accessed at

The South Whidbey Parks and Aquatic Foundation, a nonprofit group working with the South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District to build a public pool, has chosen Ballard*King & Associates to lead the consulting team, with assistance from Patano Architecture and Aquatic Design Group.

Marni Zimmerman, who is president of the foundation, said the survey is the first step of a feasibility study that will also assess community demographics, operations costs of an aquatic facility and potential revenue.

Within its first two days, the survey has already garnered 300 responses. Matt Simms, a board member for the parks and rec district, said the goal is to get 1,000.

Zimmerman said the questionnaire will be followed by community meetings, which will likely take place online. The results may be available in May.

“We want to know what people in the community want, how they would use the pool,” Zimmerman said.

Survey respondents can indicate their preferred pool programs, from physical therapy to swim lessons to kayaking to lifeguard training. “Dive-in” movies and birthday parties are also options. Age categories are also factored into the survey questions.

The survey, along with the community meetings, will help plan the design of the pool. Different pool options may be available based on the preferred program. Larger and cooler pools, for example, are better for competitive swimming, while shallower and warmer pools may be better for swimming lessons or physical therapy.

Simms said he thinks the inclusion of a therapy pool in the facility is important to the South Whidbey community.

“Given our demographic and our population, it appears that it would be something that would be used very heavily,” he said.

Simms said a therapy pool can have state-of-the-art features, such as an underwater treadmill.

The bottom of the pool could have a moving belt, which can promote water walking. Depth adjustment features could also personalize the water level for each person’s height. Underwater cameras can show how a person is moving.

He added that a town in Eastern Washington with similar demographics to South Whidbey’s has successfully implemented some of these features in a therapy pool that has been a big hit in its community.

A South Whidbey aquatic center is estimated to cost around $9 or $10 million. The consulting team, Zimmerman said, will hone those numbers.

“They’re really going to research our demographics and the kind of facility we’re trying to build and they will give us a more accurate estimation for the cost,” she said.

Simms said the next step for the project will be working on the fundraising strategy. Grant cycles will be opening up in 2022. In addition, a bond measure might be another funding source.

If it moves forward, Zimmerman said the aquatic center could become a reality at the end of 2023, at the earliest. It’s more likely to be ready in 2024 or 2025, she added.

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