BI parks goes to voters for $10 million for pool

Voters on Bainbridge Island will be deciding on a $10 million bond to deepen and widen the Ray Williamson Pool from six to eight lanes.

The BI Metro Parks & Recreation District board made that decision at a recent meeting. Parks commissioners already had planned to improve the pool, but if the bond passes it can be improved even more. The commissioners decided BI voters had a right to decide the issue. Expansion would mean increases in programs and usage.

Public comments at the meeting favored expansion. Katherine Fort is a Bainbridge Aquatic Masters member, has kids who are members of BI Swim Club, and is part of a group that has already secured more than $46,000 in pledges toward fundraising. Ken Bennett has been swimming with BAM for about 12 years and is part of a group that has already met with a professional fundraiser.

Commissioner Tom Goodlin said he received an email that asserted that he had a conflict of interest regarding the pool renovation. The email did not say why, but presumably it is because he is a BAM member. Park district attorney Hayes Gori said he does not consider Goodlin as having a conflict.

The conversation about adding lanes started in December when Stemper Architecture found the addition of two lanes to be feasible. If the project is delayed costs will go up, code requirements will change, and there are imminent failure concerns that need to be addressed to avoid the potential for closure.

Phase I of the renovation will address most of the imminent failure concerns such as the electrical and the HVAC. The pool is 54 years old, and replacing it is too expensive. The board in March committed $2.5 million out of reserves and to fund the remainder of the estimated $5.5 million with a combination of fundraising, grants and loans.

Then the board decided to expand the pool to eight lanes and make it deeper, and to pay for it with a $10 million bond, if approved by voters.

Goodlin said having a pool has been a core service of parks since 1965 when the district was created in part due to the need for a community pool.

Commissioner Jay Kinney said he thinks the aquatic community realizes that to encourage people to vote for the renovation they are going to have to raise a lot of money themselves, and he is glad they are working on that.

Anonymous donor

Park Services superintendent Lydia Roush said parks has an opportunity to receive some Fletcher Bay Property from an anonymous donor. The property is 0.4-acre. The site offers potential trail connections and has minimal amounts of invasive species. Staff sees it predominantly as a passive use park with some potential for a neighborhood pocket park.

Mary Meier, executive director of the BI Parks & Trails Foundation, said this is a great opportunity to highlight what an incredible gift something like this is. Small parcels are very meaningful for building community.

Exclusion memorial

Acting executive director Dan Hamlin said a draft agreement with the National Park Service would give parks access to up to $100,000 annually from NPS to implement an interpretive services plan.

Parks has asked the BI Japanese American Exclusion Memorial Association if it is interested in using the money to implement the interpretive services plan, which it is. Parks would receive the funds, use a portion to cover the cost of services provided to the site, and pass the rest to BIJAEMA to implement the plan.

Staff reports

Park Services superintendent David Harry said staff is in discussions with community members about a project to build a picnic shelter next to the KidsUp! Playground at Battle Point Park.

Roush said that after work on the tree thinning project at Moritani Preserve it looks messy, but that is part of the process like in a home renovation and she guarantees it is going to be gorgeous.

Aquatic Program administrator Jenette Reneau said the Aquatic Center is offering more swim lessons than it has since before COVID, and staff has built a robust swim lesson program for summer. There are 27 new BAM members who were able to be moved onto the team from the waitlist after some lane and schedule modifications were made. The Aquatic Center is almost fully staffed for summer when just a year ago staff was struggling to keep the pools open.

Recreation superintendent Bryan Garoutte said summer registration has started. Staff has already begun work on the fall recreation catalog. The Fly Fishing Expo at Battle Point Park will be May 18.

Board remarks

Commissioner Dawn Janow said she met with Reed Price, executive director of the BI Senior Community Center, who was putting out feelers to see if parks can house BISCC programs during possible closures of their facility for renovation.

Commissioner Ken DeWitt said Jack Niehaus, a young man who grew up on BI and was involved in park activities, was killed in a car wreck in Thailand recently.

Kinney said he mentioned at the last board meeting that the pickleball group wanted to make a presentation about plans for covered courts and that has been scheduled for the first board meeting in June. He also asked if staff anticipates that the tennis courts at Sakai Park will be built this year, and Hamlin said yes.