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Wading in: Ballot Issue A

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In addition to electing three trustees and Carbondale’s next mayor, town residents have the opportunity to approve replacing the John M. Fleet Pool, named for a former Carbondale mayor, with a new aquatics facility in the same location.

The new pool would separate the lap pool from the general recreation pool, while adding 1,450 swimmable square-feet. Instead of recreationists and lap swimmers alternating use of a single 3,600 square-foot pool, both could enjoy swimming simultaneously in separate pools, each heated according to its purpose. The pools would be east-west aligned, instead of north-south, to ease glare experienced by lifeguards.

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Other phased additions would include outdoor showers, a 200-square-foot hot tub and a splash pad between the pool and Sopris Park. The bathhouse, also serving as a mechanical room, would be expanded, possibly adding a top floor that could serve as a meeting space, exercise studio, offices or housing.

The new aquatic facility’s design was determined with funding through a Great Outdoors Colorado grant, allocated from state lottery proceeds. Over the course of 2020, a public survey was distributed and yielded more than 1,200 responses, mostly in favor of building a new pool. Later, design charrettes considered relocating the pool next to the Rec Center, but determined it best to maintain its current location adjacent to Sopris Park.

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The John M. Fleet Pool was built between 1978 and 1979, when Carbondale’s population was around 2,000, less than a third of what it is today. More than 43 years later, the town’s Parks and Recreation Department has determined that the aging pool is beyond rehabilitation. The first casualty was the diving board, which an engineer determined was no longer safe for public use due to deterioration around its platform.

Among top priorities in survey responses was the need to design for sustainability. The master plan acknowledges that “operating an aquatics facility is often a community’s largest municipal use of energy” and states, “future design phases should strive for a 40% reduction in energy and water use.” The document includes a “toolkit of technology” toward achieving that goal, listing options such as solar power and water heating, ground-source heat pumps, UV water filtration and low-water-use plumbing features.

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In order to make it a reality, trustees approved language earlier this year for the April ballot, asking voters for permission to borrow up to $8 million, with maximum repayment costs not to exceed $14.4 million. This can be accomplished without raising taxes thanks to an existing half-cent sales and use tax dedicated to the Parks and Recreation Department. That tax generates more than $800,000 per year, $200,000 of which will be paying off the Rec Center into 2024. 

Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR), passed in 1992, requires that voters approve any increase in public debt, hence the ballot issue. As stated in a legal notice mailed to all residents, the ballot issue “is also asking permission, that if needed, money will be used from the general fund should a shortfall occur” with a maximum annual repayment cost of $595,250.

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As the plan recognizes, municipal pools are infrequently a money-making endeavor. “A typical cost recovery for a municipal pool is between 30% and 50%.” In 2021, with far more attendance than in recent years, the John M. Fleet Pool saw 38% cost recovery, with $63,409 in revenue and an operating cost of $165,447. 

Nonetheless, the master plan anticipates “the potential for higher recovery rates with an expanded season and hours,” and greater capacity, given the proposed improvements.

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Moreover, the pool provides intrinsic value as a highly accessible resource within the town. Often during the spring months, school groups bike or bus to the pool to learn the essential skill of swimming. As stated by trustee Erica Sparhawk when trustees approved the ballot language, without an accessible pool, there could be “people in rivers without access to swimming lessons.”

Town residents can review the plan at tinyurl.com/carbondalepool before casting a vote by election day, April 5.

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Tags: #Carbondale Pool #John M. Fleet Pool #recreation #Sopris Park #Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights
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