Backers of a plan to build a community swimming pool are suffering from sticker shock, having learned last month that the 38,500-square-foot complex would cost $8.85 million to construct, nearly twice the amount projected in a study done six years ago.
Faced with this huge figure, board members of the Martha's Vineyard Aquatic Center have already asked their planning consultant to go back to the drawing board and return with a phased approach that could ease the cost burden and still give Islanders a shot at swimming laps in the off-season.
"We were shocked at the number," admitted Ken Bailey, acting director of the aquatic center board, who remains hopeful that the project can still move forward in smaller, less costly steps. "The first phase would be a lap competition pool," he said.
Mr. Bailey said there's also the possibility that the YMCA would be interested in helping to shepherd the project and to take over management of the facility, planned for five acres across from the regional high school. Talks are just beginning, but Mr. Bailey said he expects to have more information from both the consultants and the YMCA in about a month.
"We're excited about the possibility of the Y because of the credibility they would bring to the program," said Mr. Bailey. But YMCA involvement alone would not solve the money issue, and Mr. Bailey was blunt about needing taxpayer dollars to get this project under way.
"It's a community facility. The idea is to meet needs of the entire community," he said. "The community should be prepared to pay for it."
According to the $30,000 feasibility study completed last month by Water Technology Inc. of Beaver Dam, Wisc., the aquatic center would be used by 1,225 people a week. A telephone survey of 404 Islanders found that more than 65 per cent leaned toward supporting a tax hike to cover construction costs. About that same percentage said they would pay an additional $50 to $100 in property taxes.
Of those surveyed, more than 55 per cent said they would use the aquatic center at least once a week. But what the survey did not appear to ask is whether residents would help shoulder operational costs through taxes or fund-raising.
It turns out, according to the study, that operating a lap pool, a recreational pool and fitness center would not be a break-even enterprise. In fact, the projected annual cost to run the complex is $884,028. The forecast for revenues fall short by at least $150,000. Planners presented two options for revenue, one with a lower-cost membership and user fees and another with higher rates.
Under the first option, residents could buy an annual family membership for $450 or a single adult membership for $250. Under the second option, the rates for a family would be $700 and $400 for a single adult. Revenues, therefore, could fall short by as much as $200,000 a year.
The study proposes setting up a tax source to cover both the capital cost of building the center and the operational deficit. Another option would be an endowment fund of between $1.5 and $2 million, which could generate enough interest to offset the annual shortfall.
Making matters even more difficult is the current squabble between the aquatic center and high school leaders who want free swimming time for high school students in exchange for leasing high school land to the center.
Factored into the annual revenue stream is roughly $30,000 a year from the high school to cover use of the pool for swim classes and swim teams. But at this week's meeting of the regional high school committee, board members definitely favored the carrot-and-stick approach.
Committee chairman Ralph Friedman said that if the aquatic center wants to use a valuable piece of property, some concession needs to be made for high school students.
But Mr. Bailey said the aquatic center could not afford to give free time to the high school. He said the recommendation from planners was that there should be no obligation to provide free usage. "Our position is that we are building this in large part for the students and the youth of the Island," he added.
In 1995, planners said it would cost about $4.5 million to build an aquatic center. That came out of a $25,000 study paid for by Island towns. Now, six years later, the cost has almost doubled, and Mr. Bailey admits to being frustrated. He is hoping that new board members can help to expedite the project.
If realized, the aquatic center would house two pools, one for laps and another for recreational swimming. In addition there would be a smaller whirlpool and a therapy pool. A 2,800-square-foot fitness center is also part of the plan.