The Turlock City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a $1.8 million plan to restore the Columbia Park pool and splash pad, forgoing a previously-recommended construction project which would have cost millions more.
In July 2020, the Parks, Arts and Recreation Commission and the Council held a special joint meeting where they were presented with several options for a remodel of Columbia Pool. While the pool is currently closed due to COVID, a facility evaluation study conducted in 2019 found a total of 18 violations which would keep the pool shut down even without a pandemic. Since the swimming pool was built in 1957, it has undergone minor renovations and facility updates. The pool has only been replastered once, in 1999.
The three options presented to the public, PARC and Council were labeled A, B and C. Option A would renovate the existing pool and cost $1.8 million, Option B would remove the pool entirely and create a larger spray park for $2.5 million and Option C would upgrade the existing pool and splash park, update the chemical and mechanical equipment and take care of other necessary repairs with a cost of $6.3 million.
PARC Commissioners Brent Bohlender, Allison Jeffery and Randy Icelow formed the Columbia Park Master Plan Ad Hoc Committee and have spent the past six months collecting community feedback on which option would best suit Turlock’s westside, as well as the variety of residents throughout town who utilize the pool’s amenities. Following an extensive process which included community-wide surveys and outreach, the PARC voted in December to recommend Option C to the City Council.
The City Council was first presented with the PARC’s recommendation during the Jan. 26 meeting, but after public comment and input from residents of District 2, where the pool is located, the Council decided to table the item until Feb. 9 so that they could also consider Option A.
The PARC’s original recommendation, Option C, would have cost the most at $6.3 million and included a smaller-sized swimming pool constructed from the existing pool’s shell, along with updated mechanical and chemical equipment as well as new restrooms, concession stand, ticket office and additional splash pad.
While Option A would not provide any new amenities for Columbia Park, it would repair the existing pool and spray park to correct the violations currently keeping the pool from being used.
According to Chad Kennedy of O’Dell Engineering and Parks, Recreation and Public Facilities Director Allison Van Guilder, the less expensive, $1.8 million option is a straight-forward approach to the violations. One change that will be included in the plan, however, is the removal of the wall between the pool’s wading section and its larger swimming area, which is a code violation.
“You really wouldn’t notice much of a difference other than some new concrete,” Kennedy said. “There isn’t really any additional benefit to the community than what you already have.”
Councilmember Nicole Larson wondered if Option A, as the least expensive renovation choice, would force the Council to have to revisit the issue of a deteriorating pool sooner than the other options, which would both feature a complete rebuild.
Van Guilder stated that as with all City parks, the Council would need to factor in the cost of maintenance in order to avoid the issue in the coming years.
“When we look back in time at the way we maintained our pool operations, the budget factors into our challenges. With limited funds for parks and recreation, that amenity never had any capital replacement plan,” Van Guilder said. “My recommendation is that that absolutely plays a part in your decision making so in the future we’re not in a similar situation.”
Commissioner Icelow agreed, noting that if proper maintenance on the Columbia Park pool had been implemented to begin with, a renovation may not have been necessary. His Ad Hoc Committee colleagues Commissioners Jeffery and Bohlender had differing views on the agenda item, with Jeffery commending the Council for considering a different option than the one they had recommended and Bohlender urging them to adopt Option C.
“There is a way to perhaps raise funds for it,” he said.
While Proposition 68 was the City’s original funding plan, it was revealed last August that due to the pool’s offseason schedule the project did not qualify.
“At that time, nobody knew if Measure A was going to happen or not and so I didn’t have a lot of hope. I figured we’d be doing some community fundraising, grassroot efforts and bake sales — who knows, doing whatever we had to do to make this happen,” Van Guilder told the Council. “I have a lot more hope now seeing the opportunities not just with Measure A or potential opportunities, but also cannabis. I’m grateful in that we actually have these options now where we didn’t have them a year ago.”
Though exactly how the project is funded is a policy decision which will have to come back to the Council for approval, Interim City Manager Gary Hampton said that despite the City’s ability to ask a public entity to borrow the money, there may be a better option: cannabis revenue.
A Council decision last winter dictated that money from the City’s cannabis pilot program may only be spent on one-time projects, such as emergency capital improvement projects — which would include the Columbia Park pool and splash pad renovation. Hampton suggested the City could take out a General Fund unassigned balance loan and utilize ADA money accrued by the City in order to fix the pool’s violations. In turn, the loan would be paid off with cannabis revenue, which he estimated would take just 16 to 18 months based on gross receipts so far.
“I think it’s fairly safe to say that with two of the cannabis operations up and running with a total of four allocated for the community, and the revenue we’re seeing in the first half of the year from those two establishments, they can very well repay any advancement out of the unassigned General Fund fairly quickly,” Hampton said, adding that it would be difficult to come up with a second option.
Following the unanimous vote for the $1.8 million rehabilitation project, City staff will prepare a funding plan which will come back for Council approval. The bid and award process is expected to be completed in August, with construction beginning in September and completion by January 2022.