Centralia residents will not have the opportunity to vote on whether or not to fund renovation of the Pearl Street Pool this fall after the Centralia City Council acceded to requests from members of S.T.OP. (Save The Outdoor Pool) to abandon a proposed bond measure.
Representatives of the nonprofit, formed following the pool’s closure in 2011, reported Tuesday that they had received estimates well below the $2.6 million figure cited in the proposed bond measure and that they feared Centralia residents would not support raising property taxes an average of nearly $48. The council then voted 4-3 to strike the pool-related items from the agenda.
Mayor Lee Coumbs joined council members Peter Abbarno and Cameron McGee in voting against the motion made by Joyce Barnes, who has long been an advocate for the pool and made it a central issue while campaigning for her council seat.
“I think we do need the pool, and if some of the people in town don’t want it, they don’t need to go there,” Barnes said Tuesday. “… To have that monstrous figure of money (on the ballot), that’s ridiculous.”
Members of S.T.O.P. and Swim had previously championed efforts to put the issue before voters, but balked Tuesday at the estimated $2.6 million cost estimate for refurbishing the pool and rebuilding a bath house. That figure came out of discussions between the pool group and city staff following a $25,000 investment-grade audit performed by outside firm Ameresco at the behest of the nonprofit and paid for by the city.
A trio of S.T.O.P. and Swim representatives addressed the council Tuesday to make the case for more time to work on cutting costs. Ameresco initially estimated it would require about $4 million for the city to perform the necessary work to bring the pool and bath house, both built in the 1950s as a veterans’ memorial, up to modern standards.
The nonprofit recently had South Sound YMCA staff conduct an assessment of the pool facilities that, according to a letter signed by executive director Jake Grater, estimated a budget of $700,000-900,000 would be enough to refurbish both structures. “We found the pool facility to be in remarkably good condition considering its age and lack of ongoing maintenance,” Grater wrote. “… A public pool is a special thing that most cities the size of Centralia do not have. I encourage the City of Centralia to do all it can to re-open the Pearl Street Pool.”
Joyce Hoerling, Bill Ralph and Brian Dow told members of the city council that the assessment by the South Sound YMCA along with additional consultations with local contractors led them to believe that the cost estimates provided by Ameresco overshot the mark for what would be needed to reopen the pool.
“Our biggest fear was putting a dollar amount on the ballot,” Hoerling said. “Because we’ve come across new information and have been advised to check out some other things, we just want to continue this discussion.”
Council members responded to the request not to advance a ballot proposition with praise for the dedication shown by members of the nonprofit to their cause, but made clear they have no appetite for funding renovations to the pool without putting the question before voters.
Councilor Sue Luond said that city officials hear from people on both sides of the issue — those who want the pool to reopen and serve as a centerpiece of downtown Centralia, and others who see it as a waste of public resources. Rebecca Staebler asked how, if the issue is not placed on the ballot, the council would be able to best gauge the level of community support or opposition to such a project.
“I would like to see more engagement from members of the community who have children who would be going to this pool,” Staebler said. “There are a lot of people with sentiment and memories, but I haven’t seen young families (at council meetings). We need to know if they’re behind this, and they may be there, but they haven’t been here yet.”
City Manager Rob Hill said prior to the vote to remove the related ordinances from the meeting agenda that the S.T.O.P. and Swim group has been good to work with and that he thinks it and the city can continue to work together to come back with a good result for the council to consider. Hoerling said following the meeting that she isn’t worried the city will consider going a different direction with the property, despite evidence that the patience of some council members may be wearing thin.
“This council wants to put it on the ballot, but you’re asking us to hold off,” Coumbs said. “So, we’re starting at zero again.”