City discusses pool closure, splash pad

City discusses pool closure, splash padBy BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

During Wednesday’s Ridgecrest City Council meeting, members of the public weighed in on a proposal to fund an outdoor interactive fountain or splash pad for community use.

While nearly everyone approved of the splash pad concept, many speakers voiced a preference for a more comprehensive “aquatic center,” which might include a full pool and the capability to support competitive swimming.

Councilmember Lindsey Stephens presented the proposal as a measure to “mitigate or offset” last month’s closure of Pinney Pool, a long-standing summer draw for the community. The pool was not just the town’s only publicly available swimming pool, but also the place where local swim teams held their events.

According to Stephens, a splash pad could be developed and built for roughly $500,000, and the facility would be accessible to people of all ages and special needs.

“I found that splash pads are a low-cost, high-impact alternative to pools,” said Stephens.

She added that her family recently traveled across the county, visiting many splash pads, where she found them to be “amazing community gathering places.”

Stephens suggested that the city could use some leftover Tax Allocation Bond funds for the proposal as a quality-of-life improvement. Of the $920,000 in remaining TAB funds, roughly half of it is designated for local start-up businesses. The city has so far allotted some $2 million in TAB funds to local businesses in an effort to jump start economic development, but the middling performance of several recipients has brought these investments into question.

“Instead of investing money in businesses that frankly aren’t very successful, we need to spend a little bit of money on our quality of life,” said Stephens.

Other councilmembers and the public had concerns about the proposal, including whether a splash pad would be geared only toward younger children and whether the city would also need to construct more public restrooms — questions that will be addressed later by the Quality of Life Committee.

“I feel a little bit like it’s a band-aid on a really severe wound,” said Mark Thomas, a member of the public who added that the city really needed a pool that could also be used by our high school and junior college.

Scott O’Neil, executive director of the Indian Wells Valley Economic Development Committee, said that the group was already looking into an aquatic center that would support public recreation as well as competitive swimming and water sports.

“I’m compelled to ask you to hold off and allow the EDC this opportunity to get a pool for the community,” said Dan Spurgeon, also an IWVEDC member.

Laura Hickle added that while a splash pad was a “fun and laudable solution,” an aquatic center would bring more to the community and would also give children an opportunity to learn how to swim.

Still — some community members pushed for a separate outdoor splash pad while acknowledging the need for a community pool.

“Splash pads are really good for special-needs children and should definitely be considered,” said Jim Sanders. “This really needs to be considered as a separate issue from the pool.”

Multiple parents of young children followed Sanders during public comment saying that they specifically enjoyed splash pads as risk-free environments for their children.

“Lumping the splash pad in with an indoor aquatic facility detracts from the community gathering space,” said Stephens. “And for me to take my 6-, 4- and 2-year-old kids to a splash pad that’s next to a pool just isn’t feasible.”

“I think a splash pad would be wonderful,” said Hickle. “But sometimes haste makes waste. Slow down a little. Let’s look at all of this together, including a splash pad.”

In response, Stephens suggested that the city could pursue a grant for a splash pad. If successful, the grant could be used as leverage for a larger grant for a more comprehensive aquatic center.

Ultimately, the council agreed to send the splash pad concept to the Quality of Life Committee while continuing to look into the idea of an aquatic center.

Pictured: Families (including children who patiently endured hours of discussion) came out in droves to advocate for a solution following the loss of the community pool. -- Photo by Rebecca Neipp

Story First Published: 2017-02-17