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Repairs needed for old aquatic area; ideas for new amenities discussed
By David Yarger
Tuesday night, the City of North Tonawanda Common Council held a workshop to discuss future proposals and agenda items.
The Memorial Pool in the Payne Avenue Park was a major topic of discussion. Nancy Nozik of Brandstetter Carroll Inc., an architectural, engineering and planning firm out of Cleveland that works on swimming pool and recreation projects across the U.S., presented results from a feasibility study of the current pool, which featured future ideas for the Common Council to discuss.
Nozik said the feasibility was done based off five questions: Is it needed? Where will it go? What will be included? What will it cost? And will it be self-supporting?
Based off a population of 30,000 people, Nozik projected – with recommended upgrades – 48,000 users per summer, compared to the current 13,000. Water surface area was slated at 12,300 square-feet (8,000 square-feet currently); deck and grass area, 37,000 square-feet (3,340 square-feet); annual revenue, $293,000 ($20,000); and annual expenses, $286,000 ($90,000).
With the existing slide, Nozik noted the pool has limited activities/amenities, a constrained deck area, no concessions and needs $2 million in repairs.
“You’re $70,000 to $75,000 a year in the operation of the pool. While our numbers are higher – the expenses are significantly higher – we anticipate that the revenue number will be compensatively higher,” Nozik said. “We feel that the community is currently being underserved, because we feel that up to 48,000 people should be able to go and use the pool, and currently we only have 13 (thousand).”
Nozik added that the $2 million in repairs is just to get the pool “up to a current, good, operational stand-point,” but it doesn’t include upgraded amenities that could attract more users.
During an online survey conducted, which drew around 800 opinions, Brandstetter Carroll asked residents what they wanted.
When asked what their preference was for the pool facility, 37.82% voted to keep the old pool (41% of voters were non-pool users); 42.89% wished for a new pool facility; and 19.29% voted other, which voters specified their choice was dependent on the cost and options, while some asked to renovate and add on to the facility.
Nozik said the 41% of non-users requesting to keep the current pool could have voted due to the historical aspect the pool represents. The pool was built in 1947 as a memorial to World War II veterans.
Current Repairs Needed
Currently, the pool itself needs a new concrete deck and steps, stainless steel walls and gutter, an up-to-code guardrail, new slide and an ADA lift. Additionally, Memorial Pool needs upgrades to utilities and the exterior and interior of the pool house, to go along with renovations to bathrooms, locker rooms and other areas.
Memorial Pool is raised off the ground and Nozik said some people might not infer that the venue is an aquatics area.
“Nobody can see what’s going on, so you’re not attracting additional users,” she said.
Of the repairs, Nozik said, “There’s a lot of work that needs to happen on the inside. It is an old facility and it needs a lot of work to bring it back up to where it should be. The lockers should all be replaced, flooring replaced. … There a lot of things that need to be repaired and completely replaced.”
Nozik said the current location at Payne Park is a good spot for an aquatics center. A graphic presented a new Memorial Pool area in the same location, but expanding to include a lazy river, zero-entry activity pool, lap pool and an area with slides.
Aside from aquatic areas, the venue would include more shaded areas – which drew a significant amount of votes in the online survey – as well as concessions, increased deck space, additional parking, and an upgraded pool house, which would still commemorate WWII veterans and preserve the history of the pool.
Nozik said the amenities in the design were based on the votes from the surveys and public comments.
The upgraded pool house would include restrooms and changing areas, lifeguard offices, a pool equipment room and a concessions area.
The zero-entry pool Nozik said is more for younger children learning how to swim. The “beach like” pool begins with 0 inches of water, then as one maneuvers forward, it deepens to 20 inches and includes play areas.
Nozik, as well as Assistant City Engineer Chelsea Spahr, said the zero-entry pool is a way for youth to get comfortable in the water.
“There’s an intimidation factor a lot of times. We want our kids to learn how to swim. We want them to go get lessons … but a lot of times, getting up there on that deck and that big body of water is intimidating,” Nozik said. “The zero-entry provides for a variety of ages of people, not just kids, at various depths of water, so they can work there way in as they feel comfortable and enjoy being in the pool and not be intimidated.”
“Currently, the shallow end of Memorial Pool is still fairly deep for a little kid,” Spahr said of the 3-foot shallow end. “For lessons for little kids, it’s still a deeper pool for them.”
The lap pool, Nozik said, is a must, regardless if there’s a competitive team or not. The lap pool presented Tuesday featured winged units including steps to hang out on, as well as a sunken bench area with water jets, and a diving board area.
The lazy river, a 10-foot-wide trail of water that moves in one current, will give users the chance to float and relax. Nozik said the amenity is fairly popular.
Another area would include a pool specifically for water slides.
Nozik presented images of past pools the firm has designed and constructed and reiterated, “these are all city, community pools. These aren’t amusement parks. They’re not even county pools; they’re all city pools.”
“(There’s) a wide variety and different areas to just relax, get in the shade, or play in the water that are much more attractive to bring people to the pool and keep them at the pool,” Nozik added.
Of spacing the amenities out, Nozik said, “A lot of this is intentional if we need to phase in elements over time; (if) we don’t want to put in all the money up-front and save something for a couple years down the road to add to it. We plan for it in advance and you can add those things later.”
Price to Pay
While Nozik presented $2 million worth of repairs to the current infrastructure, the proposed pool development’s anticipated capital costs range between $6-$6.5 million.
The $2 million repairs may be the cheapest option, but Nozik said it would add no long-term attractiveness to the facility, and the city could face the same $75,000 debt it has faced.
“If you went to a new pool development, we put down $6 to $6.5 million. Again, a couple things could be phased in that. One of the things we’ve been working on with Amanda (Reimer, city accountant) is to recall that you currently have a $75,000-per-year deficit. … That deficit can be applied to a debt service payment on the construction of that, so you’re not totally fully funding this, because you’re already spending $75,000 a year to just maintain what you have. That can go towards the payment of a new facility,” Nozik said.
She added the facilities would anticipate breaking even for the season. Nozik presented seven municipalities that have constructed city pools with four making a surplus of revenue (one as high as $80,100); two breaking even with revenues similar to expenses; and one deficit.
“We feel there is a precedentset for these types of facilities with these type of amenities to provide a service to the community and not have an undo burden on the city,” Nozik said.
With a $4 per person per visit admission charge, and around $1.50 in concessions, Nozik said operating revenue is projected around $293,000 – a $7,000 increase from the proposed $286,000 operating costs. Nozik called the increase a breaking-even scenario. Additionally, she recommended the town look into family passes for those who attend the pool grounds numerously.
The plan is just in draft format, Nozik reminded attendees. “We are sharing with council so it helps them as they review the report and give us their comments.”
Reimer added that the search for grants has begun to “survey what’s available to us.”
Following the presentation, councilmen and Mayor Arthur Pappas offered their thoughts on the proposed pool development.
Alderman Bob Pecoraro said, “I’ve got to say that what I think people need to hit home with is it’s going to cost $2.5 million just to lose $75,000 a year, essentially.”
He added that families, of late, haven’t been using the pool as a location to bring the community together.
“The whole aqua park philosophy is to get communities, get families engaged in doing things together, as opposed to dropping people off and then picking them up when they’re done. This is an attraction to want everybody to go and everybody to have fun,” Pecoraro said.
Alderman Austin Tylec questioned the ADA compliance of the current park, which Nozik said is currently not up to standard. Additionally, she said the proposed pool would be fully ADA-compliant.
Regarding a concession stand, Assistant City Attorney Nick Robinson inquired what would be featured there.
Nozik said it’s up to the city, and some past pool developments have gone all-out with a fryer and full commercial hood. She recommended the stand include something where users can stay for lunch, which could guarantee a longer stay at the pool.
“If you have just chips and pop, you’re not going to get the kind of revenue (you want) and you’re not going to get people to stay. (It’s better when) people (can) come and know they can stay and have lunch and stay for three hours, as opposed to one hour,” Nozik said.
City Clerk/Treasurer Matthew Parish asked if any part of the proposal would feature lit areas for nighttime activities.
Nozik said, “It’s a choice you can make. There are several communities that say ‘No, we’re not going to do night swim.’ There’s others that say ‘We’re going to do parties. (When the) pool closes, we’re going to rent it out for parties.’ We just need to know that in advance, so that you have lights in the water itself, then lights up on the deck.”
Council President Eric Zadzilka requested what the city’s next steps would be in the proposal process.
Nozik said, “Our step is to get your feedback and be able to get this report from a draft to a final. So if there’s something you feel we haven’t addressed thoroughly, or anything like that, we will put that in. Then we want to get it to a final point. It’s up to the city staff to determine whether it is officially accepted by City Council it doesn’t necessarily have to be. … If the city does decide, ‘Yes, we want to move forward with this,’ this is kind of a basis for if you need to go out into the community for any valid issues or anything. Or if you’re going to get any kind of funding sources, you now have a document that says ‘This is what we want to do and this is what it’s going to cost,’ instead of just doing guess work.”
Following the meeting, Pappas said the council has some discussing to do, and the pool is definitely in need of repair.
“All these things look great, and our pool definitely needs work. There’s a lot of money involved, and whatever it is, it’s going to basically have to come through grants. … I think some of the safety features are definitely lacking according to today’s standards. … We’ve had some very good response from the community. There are several people that just want to leave it the way it is, but improve it. But we also have a lot of people interested in putting a whole new facility in. I think now it’s just a question of the council looking over this whole draft resolution and really getting into a bit more depth of their discussion to figure out what direction we’re going to go in,” Pappas said.
The pool is historic to many in the city, as it symbolizes veterans who fought in WWII. Some residents requested the historical element of the pool remain, which Pappas understood.
“I think we do a lot with history in this city, and there is a lot of history with the people. There’s so many people that are still around that grew with that swimming pool and they don’t want to see anything happen to it,” he said. “There are ways, according to what they presented to us, where they can still keep a little bit of the historical aspect, whether it is a small model of the pool out front, or something left from it built off to the side to memorialize it, so to speak, and, yet, move on to today’s world.”
The cost for repairs and possible cost for a new development could open many eyes of residents who see the dollar figure in the millions. Pappas reiterated that the city is losing money every year from the current pool, and developing a new aquatics center could be a good investment for the future of the city.
“We’re losing $70,000 a year. Well, it doesn’t take too many years for that to add up,” Pappas said. “Over an extended period of time, maybe this $6 million investment will pay for itself, if everything goes according to plan. Of course, no one knows that for sure. We really have to study it; we really have to look at it carefully.”
The council now has time to review the 81-page report and come to a decision in the future. The proposal is not set in stone and will require some time to fully develop. Once the council agrees on a draft with Brandstetter Carroll, the firm will go back and attempt to develop a final plan.