What should aquatic center look like?

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

What should aquatic center look like?Wednesday night’s public hearing for input on a proposed aquatic center put the IWV Economic Development Corp. and consultant organization Counsilman-Hunsaker one step closer to fleshing out the scope and cost of a facility that would serve our community while helping to attract visitors.

But as officials continue to pursue a feasible solution, ongoing dialog reveals that what we need (and how to pay for it) are subject to an overarching question — what do we want our community to look like, and what level of investment will that require from stakeholders?

“Ultimately, the success of a project really depends upon an individual community’s definition of ‘success,’” said George Deines, project manager for Counsilman-Hunsaker.

Earlier this year, the closure of our town’s only publicly accessible pool expedited IWVEDC’s exploration of building a complex that would offer competitive, therapeutic, recreational and safety-based swimming opportunities.

Under the leadership of Executive Director Scott O’Neil, IWVEDC assembled an advocacy group that represented various community interests to find a way to sustainably meet the needs.

Through that process of identifying partners, Ridgecrest Regional Hospital, Sierra Sands Unified School District and Cerro Coso Community College are among those that have come to the table to help determine needs and find resources.

Deines moderated a forum in June to start the public process of gathering input. This week he returned with three options — priced at approximately $11 million, $14 million and $16 million. While the low-end plan would be the least expensive to build, the higher-end facilities have greater potential to monetize.

“The costs are still soft,” he said. “But the plan is not done yet. We wanted to be able to take features from one option and incorporate them with another, if we need to. That’s why your input is so critical.”

The first plan included a pool dedicated to health, wellness and therapy — the costs of which are anticipated to be offset by RRH, identified as a key user. The other primary feature, a six-lane competition pool, could be subsidized by SSUSD and local swim teams — each of which lost their venue for competitive swimming with the closure of Pinney Pool.

The second option expands the competition pool and adds a small area for water recreation —which accounts for some 75 percent of revenue generation in the industry.

The third option builds primarily onto the attractions in the recreational area, to include shallow pools with water equipment, a lazy river, slides, seating, shade and more.

For the second and third options, the longterm operation and maintenance costs could be significantly offset by attracting out-of-town swim meets and recreational users.

Deines said his firm is looking not only at what residents have historically paid to use local facilities, but also what they — and prospective visitors — would be willing to pay for value added.

Draft plans for each footprint were depicted for attendees as they would appear at the proposed site on China Lake Boulevard between the Maturango Museum and the Ridgecrest Towne Center.

O’Neil noted that many things still need to be considered — including how the property will be developed and what green-energy measures might be taken to draw down longterm costs.

Across the industry, aquatic centers are typically subsidized by various public funds. Deines said that most cities (such as the case previously with Ridgecrest and Pinney Pool) already invest in swimming facilities as not only enhancers of quality of life, but also measures for providing life-saving water safety instruction — currently locally unavailable to the public.

Other community leaders have noted that outside of sustainability formulas, there are unquantifiable values in having attractions that help recruit and retain qualified employees to Ridgecrest and make us a more appealing destination for visitors.

“But it takes partners to make that happen,” said O’Neil.

Moving forward, Deines said his firm will work with IWVEDC over the next six weeks to use feedback to refine concepts and further develop operational revenue and expense analysis.

He will then come back with a final proposal.

“We heard and saw nothing but resounding support for our approach and for the facility,” said O’Neil, who has hosted numers public and private meetings. “There was a lot of enthusiasm for each element of the facility. I want to thank our community, our community leadership and the public for taking the time to support our meeting and be so vocal about what they want ... we made good progress.”

Pictured: IWVEDC?Executive Director Scott O’Neil fields a question at a public forum on the proposed aquatic center. -- Photo by Christina Neipp

Story First Published: 2017-08-18