Public input gathered for aquatics facility

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Public input gathered for  aquatics  facilityThe first meeting to gather broad public input on the development of a local aquatics complex brought to light keen interest, some concerns and an overview of how the IWV Economic Development Corp. plans to move forward in balancing need with longterm sustainability.

“The excitement was about something new in our community that would keep families local for water-based recreation, that would attract people to Ridgecrest, that would add to the commerce of our community and would serve all citizens in recreation, competition, education and wellness,” said Scott O’Neil, executive director of the IWVEDC.

IWVEDC has contracted with Counsilman-Hunsaker to complete, over the next 90 to 120 days, a feasibility study that will incorporate public input into developing a plan for building and operating the facility. O’Neil said the IWVEDC has asked for three options ranging from most affordable to the most comprehensive.

George Deines of C-H opened the presentation by outlining the firm’s experience in conducting studies and building developments. He said the local study will assess needs, program requirements and financial performance.

Partners in instructional-, competitive- and therapy-related uses have been identified and in many cases have committed resources to making the aquatics center a reality. However, Deines noted that overall, facilities collect about 75 percent of their revenues from recreational users.

Among the most important needs expressed from the public is a venue to provide public swimming instruction and water safety — something our community lost when the city closed Pinney Pool.

Another listener asked about the potential for capturing revenue from health insurance by providing wellness programs — an idea that O’Neil confirmed is already being pursued.

Others pointed to the possibility of expanding on sports tourism opportunities by hosting meets with out-of-town swimmers — who would subsequently be feeding transient occupancy- and sales-tax streams to bolster city revenue.

O’Neil noted that this has also been an ongoing effort of the EDC, which has already successfully attracted numerous regional tournaments to the area.

Among the concerns expressed were how such a facility could be maintained and what the impact to local water use would be. O’Neil said the study will explore both those aspects in depth — including considerations for a water-neutral facility.

Although O’Neil said the EDC did not have any authority in the city’s closure of Pinney Pool, he did confirm that the local agency is committed to incorporating recognition of Sgt. John Pinney’s sacrifice to our country into the new facility.

Deines challenged members of the community to think about what their definition of success would look like.

Dr. David Ostash, a former swim coach and current assistant superintendent for Sierra Sands Unified School District said that recruitment and retention of a quality professional workforce is an ongoing challenge to local employers.

“There are now more millennials entering the workforce than babyboomers, which is a significant point of analysis,” he told the News Review. “When I consider the difficulties in building and sustaining your ideal workforce, I can see how building a facility like this would be a huge improvement in our local infrastructure and quality of life.”

He acknowledged the funding challenges, but added, “Your best communities will have aquatic centers — it’s an essential service for safety, recreation and therapy. I think it’s worth the redistribution of some public moneys to bring something like this to Ridgecrest.

“I think this is an incredible opportunity, and I personally would be willing to pay into some kind of measure or tax if that’s what it took.”

Those sentiments were echoed by Holly Farris, who attended based on her participation in Burros Boosters and Committee for Safe Graduation,, as well as her interest in athletic and recreational opportunities for her four children.

“Most of the people I interact with have expressed a very high interest in this project,” she said. “When I heard where Scott and the consultant were going, I thought they were right on target.”

She said that her family has visited the Yuba City water complex, which caters to the varied needs of its residents and visitors. “I know that parks and recreation facilities can be expensive to run, but I think it’s an important component of building a community where people want to stay.

“Because of that, I would be willing to pay some kind of assessment to keep a place like that open.”

“We have a lot of work to do now — to sort through the information and settle on what we can afford to build,” said O’Neil. “We will keep the community involved and apprised. No matter what we decide, it will only be realized through the direct involvement and support of our community.

“So, please — stay informed!”

Updates will be posted on the IWVEDC’s Facebook page, as well as at iwvedc.com.

Pictured: IWVEDC Chair Scott O’Neil

Story First Published: 2017-06-30