After listening to a presentation on the status of the El Centro Aquatic Center, the board voted unanimously to approve the $9.3 million dollar project including three extra options, despite the projected cost of the center $1 million over budget prior to extra inclusions.
The three representatives from Kimley Horn engineering firm, who spearheaded the aquatic center, detailed their outreach to the community in researching the perfect pool configurations for families in the Imperial Valley and for the taxpayers of El Centro.
Their choices condensed to two options, with the first containing a six-lane competitive pool, an activity pool with climb on structures and a warm up pool. The second option differed mainly by replacing the activity pool with a lazy river and an activity pool connected to the warm up pool. Both plans called for an aquatic building, picnic tables, shades and landscaping.
Options that could be added were making the competition pool eight lanes, adding an activity pool, a slide feature and $100,000 in extra shading.
The board eventually chose the second option and three of the four add-ons, leaving out the slide.
Assistant legal counsel, Ryan Childers, mentioned he was on the CUHS board and they are planning on building a competition pool at Southwest High, too. He recused himself from the room before any of the voting began.
Cheryl Viegas-Walker stated that from her personal experience as a competitive swimmer in her youth, a six-lane pool was not very big.
“Our swim teams have suffered for not having a competitive pool for over a decade,” said Viegas-Walker. “Our regional team has hurt because we don’t have a pool. We have children in this town that never knew the city once had a pool.”
The reason for the small competition pool, according to Kimley Horn, and for other hard choices was the burden on the taxpayers. Already, the minimized water park was over-budget by $1 million.
Part of the projected cost included a 20% contingency of the $7.8 million cost pushing the total to $9.3 million, almost exactly one million dollars past their budget. The engineers acknowledged that once paperwork is finalized, the 20% will come down, saving the city money.
Councilman Alex Cardenas said he liked the idea of a water park but worried about securing the missing money.
“Where will the $1.2 million come from?” asked Cardenas to the board. “It appears we are approving a project with a deficit. I am supportive of the project and I am very pleased with the presentation, but I’m worried how we will pay for it.”
“We absolutely have to dream big,” Viegas-Walker countered. “This is the only pool we are going to build in the city of El Centro in the next 50 years. Whatever the high school does, it is going to be a mini-version of what we do. We will not have an opportunity to do this again in our lifetime. We have an opportunity right now to build a beautiful pool complex for our city.”
“With all the funds reserved in our rainy day funds, can’t we repurpose that to get what we want with the pools?” continued Viegas-Walker. “How can we fund that gap. There has to be a way.”
El Centro’s financial director Leticia Salcido said that money had been set aside in the library and police station building funds. Using that was the only choice besides dipping into the general fund. All agreed using the general fund was not desirable.
Grants were spoken of being a possibility as Viegas-Walker mentioned El Centro should be a prime candidate on many levels to get a pool grant from the state.
Admission will be charged for entrance into the aquatic park; however, the engineers from Kimley Horn said operations would cost the city between $450 – 570 thousand depending on several factors with staffing being the biggest cost.
Entry fees, rentals, and competitions was projected to bring in between $270-400 thousand to the city, creating an annual deficit.
The board believed the aquatic center would be the only water park in the valley and therefore attract residents from all the towns to help offset the operating costs.
Bids will go out in early 2017 with groundbreaking in May of 2017. The engineers expect to turn the operation over to the city for operation in the summer of 2018.