WHITE SALMON — White Salmon Valley Pool Metropolitan Park District officials, who are overseeing the pool replacement project, met with White Salmon's mayor and city council to discuss a possible city investment into the pool project.
The special meeting between the White Salmon Valley Pool Metropolitan Park District (WSVPMPD) and White Salmon City Council, held Oct. 27, featured a presentation and short discussion between the two governing bodies.
Pool officials will also soon be meeting with Bingen City Council as well as the Klickitat County Board of Commissioners to seek further public investment in the project.
“We’ve certainly expressed our support of the pool, obviously questions about funding have come forward, so we’re eager to hear what that funding plan looks live and give our council a chance to hear from commissioners what they envision that path forward looks like and how the city might be able to contribute,” Mayor Marla Keethler said.
History of pool project
Efforts to replace the former White Salmon City Pool, which opened in the 1930s and was operated by the city, began in earnest in 2010, with the creation of a special purpose district, approved by voters, the Mt. Adams Parks and Recreation District (MAPARD). MAPARD ordered the creation of a feasibility study, funded by donations, which provided two options for the construction of a new pool, and a later donation-funded feasibility study performed by contractors through the city found that it was not feasible to replace the pool at its current location. Those studies, combined with a later operational study which analyzed maintenance and operation costs in conjunction with potential programming, were used in the creation of the pool’s current plan, von Mosch said.
A levy ballot measure to sustain MAPARD’s efforts failed, and later, voters approved the creation of the WSVPMPD with a perpetual levy in 2018. Councilor Jason Hartmann added that the reasoning behind the creation of the district was in part to double the tax base as a boost to replacement efforts.
“Eight years of effort brought us to the formation of the pool district in 2018 and the actual kick off of building the pool park district,” Von Mosch said.
The pool officially closed to the public in May of 2019.
Volunteer effort as well as a grant from Klickitat County supported the small district in the very beginning. In 2020 the district received the first batch of funding from the voter-approved levy. That year the district obtained a lease on an empty lot near the school district’s bus barn on Loop Road, which they determined was the most feasible site for the pool.
A comprehensive plan and conceptual plan, done all through volunteer labor, was conducted by WSVPMPD which helped guide design discussions. The district also received a waiver from the state to fund a construction management/general contractor.
“It allows us to have greater latitude in how we are able to contract and build a pool and have better oversight,” von Mosch said.
Fundraising and design
Last year the pool underwent a design process that ended with a final design plan and updated construction costs.
The design of the pool calls for a multi-use pool with eight lanes 25 yards long. Construction would occur in two stages, with the main pool and utilities being built first and a warm water therapy pool and splash pad to be built later. A diving board, as well as a 3,670 square-foot pool office building with locker rooms, bathrooms, and utilities included. A community center room could be included in a later phase of construction.
Commission Vice-President Steven Harris said the construction cost estimate for the final approved design was 5.23 million in August of 2021, and that cost has since jumped 28 percent to just over $6.7 million in April of 2022.
The district was unable to receive approval for a $1.5 million bond through the state as well as a $1.235 million request through the state legislature. “Coupled with those losses of funding, the board made the decision to pause the project,” he said.
Harris said the construction documentation has been completed, and the project was approved through the state environmental approval process. The district would need to reapply for a conditional use process again through Klickitat County once ready to go to bid for construction. The next step would be to put that into a bid package once ready to go to construction, he said.
Commissioner Benjamin Briggs spoke to the fundraising status of the pool. He said that through working with consulting firm Rose City Philanthropy, a feasibility study was created, recommending the creation of a 501c3, which broadens the funding sources available to the district. “We are just starting to look at that process,” Briggs said.
Rose City Philanthropy told the board that private money always follows public money.
Currently, community donations make up 12% of the district’s funding for the project; another 12% is made up of levy funds. Briggs said the project was about a quarter funded.
The district's tentative funding strategy shows that they are planning for a $7 million project by the time they go to bid. If they were to receive the grants they are eligible for, about $1.4 million, through the state Recreation and Conservation Office, as well as a $1 million bond through the state department of commerce program, and approval of funding through the state legislature, the district would be looking at a $925,000 funding gap, Briggs said.
The district has received about $1.1 million in cash and in-kind donations, Briggs said. Von Mosch added that certain in-kind donations cannot be accounted for until the district has a construction contract.
Due to funding cycles for the various grant applications, the district has set a tentative construction state date for the summer of 2025, to open at the start of summer 2026.
In response to a councilor question, Von Mosch said that despite delays in construction, the district has not lost or had to refund any donations except for an RCO grant that had to be returned to the state. The district is planning to reapply for the grant.
Asked how the district plans to stay on the construction timeline, Harris said, “We’ll have a very good idea in the Fall of 2024 of where we are... There are a number of private foundations or funding sources that want to be the last dollar in the door, they don’t want to be the first dollar in the door.”
The district did not bring a figure for the city to consider in terms of a funding request, one point of debate among councilors.
City Councilor Benjamin Giant commented that the city has a yearly annual budget that is less than the cost of the construction of the pool.
“It’s hard to square a million dollar funding gap between Bingen, White Salmon, and Klickitat County. So I love the idea of a 501c3 … private dollars is clearly a pathway,” he said. “There’s no way that the City of White Salmon without a massive part of our operating budget, even with Bingen, could close that gap.”
Hartmann noted that residents currently pay into the park district through an annual levy. “We just need to make sure that the residents feel like they’re not paying for it twice,” he said. “We certainly want to see a pool … we just have to make sure we do it in a way that’s above board and in the best interest of our residents.”
Councilor Jim Ransier added that “it is difficult to show leadership and a path forward without specifics,” he said. “I know the numbers that we’re considering are not even remotely close to a million dollars ... If the ask is clear and we can set aside a certain amount of money every year to get to a certain number that is useful to show momentum, I think that is really what we’re asking.”
He added, “If we’re going to lobby Olympia for additional support, being really clear about what everybody’s contribution is at the local, county, and state would make it a unified front.”
The district’s main ask for the city is not only to provide funding, but also to support their lobbying efforts with the state, which Mayor Keethler said the city was in support of. The district’s next steps are to monitor construction costs and to create a capital fundraising campaign, including the formation of a 501c3 and lobbying for state dollars.
A preliminary budget for the city of White Salmon will be available by Nov. 2 for the city council to review.