Two-pool option floats to top in study

The feasibility study for a South Whidbey aquatics center is wrapping up with unexpected results.

The feasibility study for a South Whidbey aquatics center is wrapping up, and so far it has revealed some unexpected results.

For several years now, the South Whidbey Parks and Aquatics Foundation has committed to raising funds for the construction of a public pool on the South End. The nonprofit organization and the South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District have partnered to form a committee focusing on the project, which has made waves over the last few years.

Most recently, a third-party consultant has been wrapping up a comprehensive feasibility study that began about nine months ago.

Foundation President Marni Zimmerman and South Whidbey Parks and Recreations District Commissioner Matt Simms gave a presentation to the other commissioners during the district’s last public meeting.

As Zimmerman pointed out, the pool committee had been discussing a three-pool facility for decades, which would include a lap pool, instructional pool and therapy pool. The feasibility study, however, recommends moving away from that option and instead pursuing a two-pool model.

Zimmerman said a member of the foundation’s board interviewed South Whidbey physical therapists to determine if they would be interested in using a therapy pool. None expressed interest, and one even said it would be “an affront” to the current physical therapy businesses.

The foundation has also approached the public hospital district multiple times about partnering on the therapy pool, but with no response.

A physical therapist in San Diego told the foundation member and Simms that she was able to do all of her aquatic physical therapy in a lap pool.

As a result, a two-pool design is recommended by the feasibility study’s consultant and the pool committee.

“It’ll cost less to build,” Zimmerman said. “And if you look at the revenues and the expenses, there’s less of a deficit.”

Simms showed the commissioners a potential design that would transform a portion of an instructional pool into a zero-depth entry area and a lazy river.

In the new design, the instructional pool and the lap pool take up the bulk of the facility, but there is potential for a smaller therapy pool to be “bolted on” to the building, in case the hospital district expresses an interest in partnering on the project.

The pool committee is also considering a “relatively inexpensive addition” that would give people who are accompanying swimmers something else to do, rather than swimming.

“One of the things that came up as a possibility that’s become really intriguing is the idea of an elevated walking track around the other end of the facility,” Simms said.

The track would cost somewhere between $50,000 and $100,000.

Although they’ve received a few different price estimates, Simms believes $15 million to be the most accurate cost estimation for the aquatics center as a whole.

In 2008, a $15 million bond that would have covered the entire cost of the aquatics center did not pass. This time, the pool committee has been discussing a publicly voted bond of $5 million for the project to be on the ballot as early as August 2022.

In addition to a bond, other sources of funding are being considered this time, including grants and community donations.

“I think we have a much better chance of gaining public support in order to pass that bond,” Simms said.

The other parks and recs commissioners were supportive of the new two-pool design and the work done by the pool committee.

“In my mind, the two pools are easier to sell than having three if you word that correctly and let the stakeholders know that therapy can still be done in that second pool,” Commissioner Erik Jokinen said.

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