Condition of aging Julius Boehm Pool could shape park bond measure
September 18, 2012
By Warren Kagarise
Come summertime, about 1,000 people each day slip into the 84-degree water at Julius Boehm Pool, a fixture in downtown Issaquah for decades.
The crowd is diverse in age and activity — early-morning lap swimmers, senior citizens in water-exercise classes, children for swimming lessons and more. Summer is the busiest time of year for the pool.
The pool is 40 years old — 15 years older than designers intended for the facility — and visitors and employees often encounter signs of age.
City Parks & Recreation Director Anne McGill said the facility is dated, and leaders face a choice as the City Council considers a possible park bond measure for 2013.
“It’s like that old car in the garage. What are we going to do about it? Are we going to put another carburetor in it? Or are we going to trade it in?” she said.
In June, a polling firm hired by the city surveyed residents as the initial step in a process to pass a multimillion-dollar bond measure to fund future parks projects, including a possible pool upgrade.
By the numbers
EMC Research surveyed city residents from June 14-20 about Issaquah parks facilities, and city residents and Issaquah School District residents about the Julius Boehm Pool.
Pollsters conducted 600 interviews of registered voters in the city and the school district. The total includes 300 respondents from inside Issaquah city limits.
The margin of error for the Issaquah sample is plus or minus 5.5 points. The margin of error for the school district sample is plus or minus 4 points. (Some percentages may not add up to 100 percent due to rounding.)
Overall condition of Julius Boehm Pool
Positive: 18 percent
Negative: 27 percent
Not sure: 53 percent
Regularly: 9 percent
Occasionally: 14 percent
Rarely/never: 78 percent
Issaquah School District residents
Regularly: 6 percent
Occasionally: 14 percent
Rarely/never: 79 percent
Expanding tax area
Support: 67 percent
Oppose: 27 percent
Don’t know: 6 percent
Source: EMC Research
Still, the pool is only one option as leaders consider a bond. Residents also indicated interest in more dollars to preserve open space, build parks, improve trails and more.
Overall, most survey respondents inside city limits supported a $10 million proposal for open space, parks and to renovate the pool.
Pollsters also quizzed Issaquah School District residents about a $21 million measure for a major pool renovation and a special taxing district to fund the overhaul.
The same survey, however, showed many residents’ unfamiliarity with the pool.
Overall, only 9 percent of respondents from inside city limits visit the pool regularly, and only 6 percent of school district respondents do the same. In both areas, 14 percent of respondents said they visit the pool occasionally.
‘It’s doing pretty darn good’
The survey results also showed many respondents did not know about the pool’s condition. Overall, 18 percent of respondents inside city limits gave the pool’s condition a positive rating, and 27 percent offered a negative rating.
But, in a reflection of residents’ unfamiliarity with the pool, 56 percent of residents said they were unsure about the pool’s condition.
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 day the pool opened.
The county built the pool to last for 25 years. Issaquah received the pool from the county in 1994.
The facility — named for local Olympic athlete and chocolatier Julius Boehm — includes a 40-yard pool featuring a shallow area and a 25-yard lap pool.
The structure is in decent shape overall due to careful maintenance, but increases in users and the surrounding population strain the pool.
“Honestly, if you compare this pool to the other ones that were built at the same time, it’s doing pretty darn good,” said Recreation Supervisor Jen Newton, a city employee since 1999. “We have an incredible maintenance team here with the city that has done a great job, and the city has invested money into the facility to keep it doing well.”
The county opened pools in Auburn, Redmond and elsewhere during the Forward Thrust era.
In 2009, Issaquah leaders received a study about the pool’s shortcomings and advantages. The document remains a road map to possible pool improvements.
The study highlighted problems related to outmoded facilities and mechanical systems.
Condensation forms inside the building during cold weather, due to noninsulated walls and windows. The antiquated boiler system is another source of concern.
‘We plan every single inch of this pool’
Inside, employees and users need more deck and office space, and areas for programs. The existing family restrooms and locker rooms do not meet modern needs.
Plans also recommended seismic upgrades, though the facility survived the 2001 Nisqually earthquake unscathed.
Outside, inadequate parking causes headaches during swim meets and other special events.
The facility hosts practices for the Issaquah and Liberty high school swim teams. Though the facility lacks space for Skyline High School swim teams to practice, teams from Issaquah, Liberty and Skyline hold meets at the pool.
In addition to the high school teams, the club Issaquah Sockeyes Swim Team also uses the facility.
In order to accommodate the constant jockeying for space among different groups, staffers divide the pool for multiple, simultaneous uses.
“We plan every single inch of this pool that we can when we’re open, as far as trying to get as many people access to the pool as we can,” Newton said. “A lot of times when we’ve got the swim team in, we’ve got swim lessons going on at the shallow end.”
Still, “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,” the study concluded.
Though most pool users come from inside Issaquah School District boundaries, the facility also attracts swimmers from North Bend, Renton, Seattle and Snoqualmie.
“What would be really nice would be to add more water,” Newton said. “The upgrades will keep the facility the way it is, which is great. We wouldn’t want to lose it. But it doesn’t give us any more water, so we wouldn’t be able to accommodate, for example, Skyline High School. We wouldn’t be able to offer more swimming lessons — that we have a waitlist for every single session.”