City pursues $8.5 million grant for pool

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

City pursues $8.5 million grant for poolCommunity stakeholders gathered at Tuesday evening’s Quality of Life meeting in Ridgecrest City Council Chambers, where members of staff, council and public discussed the prospect of securing a slice of the $395.3 million available through the Statewide Park Program to fund a new community swimming pool.

The city has hired California Consulting to help write an application for the competitive grant, which is due Dec. 14.

Committee Chair Lindsey Stephens noted that the timeline was short, but commended staff for moving quickly in order to posture the city for success.

Since Pinney Pool was closed down several years ago, members of the public have bemoaned the lack of a community pool. The IWV Economic Development Corp. spearheaded an attempt to build an aquatic center, but even with collaborative investments the model was not viable for our community.

However, IWCEDC Executive Director Scott O’Neil attended the committee meeting Tuesday to commit their resources and support to the new initiative.

“In the spirit of time, how can we leverage the work the EDC has already done to help?” he asked.

He noted that the coalition of support for the aquatic complex included the school district, competitive swim teams, hospital and hospitality industry.

The EDC also funded a study that outlined the costs of building and maintaining a facility. “I think the study we funded covers the scope of work that the city wants to do,” O’Neil told the News Review.

“And the EDC is willing to pay the delta for whatever else needs to be done to complete that study for the city. I think it’s something that could expedite the process for the city.”

O’Neil said that although his organization has not gone through the formality of board approval, he has confidence based on the past level of commitment to helping fund a community pool that they will continue that support.

“This is for our community. We are not interested in anything but getting a swimming pool in our city. I think that leveraging the work we have put in could make the city’s project successful.”

Representatives of the local swimming community were also on hand to give input on the process. Among the ideas were building an indoor pool with a retractable roof or rolling door, in order to ensure year-round operation.

In response to the grantwriter’s declaration that community support is a key element for approval, Jennifer Williams asked if the city could partner with schools to solicit public input.

“With Distance Learning, we have access [to families] like we’ve never had before,” said Williams. “How can we make the most of that?”

Sierra Sands Unified School District Superintendent Dr. David Ostash called in to to express his support for the project, and offered to bring a resolution of support before his board at the Oct. 27 board meeting.

Ostash said that having access to a pool is beneficial for local students for several reasons — including the safety aspect of drown prevention and having a venue for physical education and competitive team practices.

The city’s consultant said that other critical metrics for success relate to identifying a location with a low enough median income, and limited park space, to make them a viable candidate. Out of the hundreds of communities across California, many are ineligible on those grounds.

The city has discovered, using the tool at parksforcalifornia.org/communities that scores sites, that the current location of Pinney Pool may be one of the best candidates for a new pool.

The community must hold a minimum of five meetings for the purposes of community engagement. Jake Whitaker from California Consulting noted that since the community has already undergone the process in earlier pursuits to build an aquatics complex, that may also count toward the grant requirements.

Whitaker said that his firm’s job is to “bring this across the finish line,” and make the bid as competitive as possible. He said that opportunities like this come once every couple of decades, but said that he believed the city had a decent shot.

He also said that he was confident that the firm could support the city’s ability to meet the relatively tight timeline.

Stephens said that the city will host an outdoor meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 5:30 p.m. at the Kerr McGee Sports Complex. The next regularly scheduled meeting for the committee, which would be on election day, will be moved to Nov. 2.

To view the application, see www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=29939.

Pictured: Families splash around during open swim at Sgt. John Pinney Memorial Pool, which closed in 2017. — News Review file photo

Story First Published: 2020-10-09