No Swimming in Pool
No Playing on Playground
No Exercising in Gym
DESERT HOT SPRINGS, CA – It’s a great swimming pool. There is no question about that. The question is – four months after a grand opening of the city’s new community center – why are gates remaining locked on the $20 million facility.
Would be pool-goers have the same question about a gym fully stocked with brand-new exercise equipment gathering dust and a fantastic never-used children’s gym equipment remaining all locked up while people looking for health and wellness get fatter and more lazy.
“It is a beautiful pool, I’d love to be able to use it. My kids asked me why the playground is always locked up and I don’t know what to tell them.”
said Julie Chapman, a Desert Hot Springs resident who has her two boys enrolled at the Boys and Girls Club next door.
A report scheduled to be presented to the city council at an April 30, 2013 council meeting may provide the answer. The city is struggling over funding issues to operate the pool. A consultant hired by the city suggests a solution to those funding problems is to operate the pool just four months a year.
The report did not address the hundreds of thousands of dollars of health and wellness exercise equipment funded by the Desert Health Care District that is also out of reach of residents. Neither did it address the playground locked inside the pool area. It appears that the playground area access is restricted to access accompanying the pool area. If one is locked up so is the other.
According to the report, the single largest cost to open and operate the pool is salaries of those who will manage and oversee the facility, including the pool. The cost estimate to keep the pool open for four month’s of operation is in excess of $350,000.
To oversee the entire facility, a foundation board was created under the leadership of city manager Rick Daniels. In February, the board approved the reassignment of the city’s project manager for construction of the facility, Rudy Acosta, to serve as facility manager with a salary in excess of $160,000 per including benefits.
Acosta served as the city’s redevelopment agency director but the State of California has since eliminated redevelopment agencies in the state.
In addition to other ongoing operational costs, the salary of the one facility manager hired so far finds the city having spent over $50,000 before ever opening the gates to the facility. Of the $20,000 million project, only one section is being used for operations of the Coachella Valley Boys and Girls Club.
The swimming pool design has also come under challenge with residents pointing out it was not built to meet the needs of the community, specifically the elderly and for leisure aquatic activities. The pool is designed as a competition swimming pool for youth sports swimming. By all standards, it is an excellent competition pool.
“Service areas can also vary in size with the types of amenities that are included in a facility. An aquatic center with a strong leisure pool (zero depth entry, interactive play features, slides, etc.) will generally have a larger service area than a more traditional flat water competitive oriented facility. Since the John H. Furbee Aquatic Center has a large traditional pool and only a small splash pad, the market area will be smaller.” Page one from the John H Furbee Aquatics Center Final Report by Ballard, King and Associates.
This translates to less use by the young children and the elderly. It also signifies that the design chosen will bring in less revenue causing a greater burden on the city.
The city does own a second pool located at Wardman Park that has for years been used for youth swimming and aquatic exercise by senior citizens. As long as that pool remains open, the limitations of the Health and Wellness Center pool does not rise to a level of concern.
However, money and a tight city budget are forces combining to put the Wardman Park pool at risk.
In October of last year a recommendation by the city manager to the council was to close the Wardman Park pool and completely remove it by tearing it out and filling it in. That suggestion was met with resistance by Council Members Russell Betts, Scott Matas and Adam Sanchez, telling the city manager to hold off on eliminating the Wardman Park pool.
However, the consultant’s report that will be presented at the April 30 meeting, recommends that the pool be closed. The reason; the money used to keep the Wardman Park pool open is needed to pay for the operational costs of the new pool at the Health and Wellness Center.
Renee Hickey, the longtime Aquatics Coordinator for the city pool at Wardman Park is not happy with that suggestion and has been outspoken about discussion to close the Wardman Park pool and the failing of the new pool design for youth and seniors. The proposal by the city manager surprised Green who brought a troop of seniors to the city council meeting to voice their concerns.
“The new pool was not designed for water aerobics,” Renee said, “No one bothered to ask the people that use the city pool what was needed. There is no way water aerobics can work in the new pool, so the city is going to have to keep Wardman Pool open for us all to keep using the old pool.”
Kaboom Goes Bust
The public was not at all involved in any form of open engagement in determining the use of facilities or design of the community center. There were no public meetings to solicit community input. Sketches, designs and plans never were never presented to the Planning Commission for approval. Members of the public were simply not invited to participate in any part of the design phase.
However, in an effort to claim community involvement, the city successfully rounded up over 400 people to do the work of assembling the massive playground known as Kaboom. No citizens participated in any of the choices or decision making.
The confluence of community members and civic leaders lured the media to record the event. Of course, every politician took advantage of the photo opportunity and to bask in ribbon-cutting glory. No one at the time thought the entire facility would get stuck in mothballs.
Unlike the swimming pool, there have been no operational reports done for the city owned state of the art gymnasium. No one can touch the brand new equipment because there is no one to operate the facility and no insurance. No one can say if the facility will ever be open to the public.
After construction started for the swimming pool, the city authorized an independent operations study to calculate costs and revenue projections. The report by Ballard, King and Associates is eye-opening in contradicting what was built with what was affordable or practical.
Using statistics and sophisticated metrics the Ballard report paints a bleak picture of the pool.
An analogy might be if you went out and bought a BMW car and drove it home and around town for a month. Then when the mail delivered you a payment request you suddenly realized you didn’t have enough money for the car payments. You could let the car sit in the garage and not drive it around but you would still be on the hook to make the monthly payments even if you could not afford them.
That is the dilemma the city now finds itself in.
When the project was first announced it was $5 million. The last public announcement made by city manager Rick Daniels was the project cost $20 million. One of the subcontractors has made a public allegation that one reason for the rise in costs was a $5 million change order – that was never approved by the city council.