Julius Boehm Pool upgrade is City Council priority

May 14, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

NEW — 5 p.m. May 14, 2011

The long-discussed plan to redo outdated Julius Boehm Pool inched ahead Saturday, as City Council members listed priorities for 2012 — a key step in determining how leaders decide to spend next year.

In addition to confronting increased maintenance costs as Boehm Pool ages, a 2009 city-commissioned study declared the facility as inadequate for the community.

“We’ve gone to tactical mode,” Council President John Traeger said. “We’ve got to fix the pool.”

The pool emerged as a major focus early in the session, as council members and department chiefs gathered in a map-lined Public Works Operations Building conference room. Other priorities included downtown parking, economic development and Lake Sammamish State Park.

The price tag to expand and upgrade downtown Boehm Pool in a major renovation is estimated at $21 million.

The popular pool no longer meets demand for high school and club swim teams, recreational swimmers and children’s swimming lessons due to age and other factors. Still, passing a municipal bond to salvage the facility might be a tough sell.

“I don’t think we’re going to be able to — in the current economic situation — go to our voters and say, ‘We’d like to build a new $21 million pool, please,’” Councilwoman Eileen Barber said.

In the city budget adopted in December, council members directed the Parks & Recreation Department to outline the steps needed to form a special-use district to fund pool improvements. If created, such a district could levy a property tax.

Such a proposal is difficult to pull off, because cities intersecting school district boundaries also need to put the measure to voters. The district encompasses neighborhoods in Bellevue, Newcastle, Renton and Sammamish.

Issaquah leaders approached Sammamish officials about such a district, but council members from the neighboring city dismissed the suggestion at a March joint meeting.

“We’ve heard very clearly from Sammamish that they have no interest in partnering with us,” City Administrator Bob Harrison said.

King County built the pool in 1972 under the Forward Thrust program — a series of bonds passed in 1968 and 1970 to fund parks, recreation facilities, roads and other infrastructure. Issaquah claimed about 3,000 residents on the pool’s opening day.

The county built to the pool to last for 25 years. Issaquah received the city from the county in 1994.

The facility — named for Olympic athlete and chocolatier Julius Boehm — includes a 40-yard pool featuring a shallow area and a 25-yard lap pool.

City leaders received a study in 2009 about the Boehm Pool’s shortcomings and advantages.

Overall, the structure is in decent shape due to careful maintenance. However, the study highlighted problems related to outmoded facilities and mechanical systems.

Inside, employees and users need more deck and office space, plus areas for programs. The existing family restrooms and locker rooms do not meet modern needs.

Condensation forms inside during cold weather, due to noninsulated walls and windows. The study also noted problems related to the pool’s antiquated boiler system.

Outside, inadequate parking causes headaches during swim meets and other special events.

Importantly, the study concluded, “the pool can no longer accommodate the needs of the competitive swim market, the demand for programs and services and has no appeal to recreation swimmers.”

If the city decide against upgrades or replacement, leaders face a stark decision.

“The other alternative is to close it,” Harrison said. “Because at some point we’re going to reach a point where that decision will be made for the city just by virtue of the fact that it’s going to die. It’s just not going to function anymore.”

(The aquatic center feasibility study also proposed a $31 million pool facility near Central Park in the Issaquah Highlands, although a constructing highlands pool is not a top priority for city leaders.)

Boehm Pool serves the entire Issaquah School District, and district residents pay the same usage fees as city residents. Under conditions set in the transfer, the county required Issaquah to charge the same fees to city residents and nonresidents.

Census 2010 data released in late February puts the district population at 98,660 people and the city population at 30,434 people. (The districtwide population includes Issaquah.)

The school district stretches from Preston to Newcastle and from Sammamish to Renton, but Issaquah residents foot the bill for most pool-related expenses.

“Our citizens are paying a disproportionate amount over and above what they should be paying for that,” Councilman Fred Butler said. “I do agree that we need to do something. It’s a valuable resource.”

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