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VRA pulls the plug on Lower Valley pool

CARNATION _ The decades-long effort to bring a swimming pool to

the Lower Valley has finally ended.

Board members of the Valley Recreation Association (VRA),

formerly known as the Eastman-Rush Memorial Foundation, unanimously voted

to disband the organization and transfer its funds to other Lower Valley groups.

"Disappointment is the basic feeling," said Jeff Spencer, VRA

president. "When we took the vote I had this combined feeling of

disappointment and the sense that it was the responsible thing to do. It would be

irresponsible to pretend this thing could work."

"It's extremely sad that the kids won't have an opportunity to have

[a pool]," added board member Laree Shanda.

The members based their decision on a marketing study done by

Hebert Research Inc. which found that it would cost about $800,000

to $900,000 to run the recreation facility. Of the 300 Duvall, Carnation

and Fall City residents who were polled over the phone, 75 percent said

they were interested in having a pool in the Lower Valley. The group

estimated that user fees of $39 a month would only bring in about $620,000 a year

_ leaving a $200,000 deficit that couldn't easily be generated.

The VRA also looked at other revenue sources including

concession sales and leasing the pool to schools or private swim teams which

would possibly add another $100,000 to the pot. But that still wouldn't

create enough funds to keep the project afloat.

"It's incredibly disappointing to have worked so hard and to have

the assessment come back and say it's a supported project, but we just

don't have enough people to support it," Shanda said.

"Some were willing to pay $49 a month, but we said it's important

to make it more accessible to more people," Spencer added.

The respondents of the survey said they were interested in having a

pool, basketball court, exercise room, meeting space and weight room in

their community. A facility of that size would cost an additional $4 million

to $8 million to construct.

So far, the VRA and Eastman-Rush Foundation raised

$15,000 through a brick campaign that offered memorial bricks for the

much-anticipated facility.

`The assets will be distributed to nonprofit organizations according

to the law," Spencer said.

Longtime Valley resident Allen Rush said he was disappointed

when he heard that the VRA was planning to dissolve the organization that

had been fighting to bring a safer swimming option to the children of the

Valley.

Rush is the father of 17-year-old Steve Rush _ one of the namesakes

of the Eastman-Rush Memorial Foundation _ who drowned in Langlois

Lake in 1972. Allen Rush said John Eastman died in an accident in

the Snoqualmie River several weeks later. The deaths prompted

community members to form the foundation and the push for pools began.

"There were quite a few people involved at first," Allen Rush

recalled. "We had bake sales and car washes and we tried to get people to

write grants, but it just didn't seem to pan out."

"There was no money available," he added.

Duvall resident Larry Lydon, who was a teacher at Tolt High

when Eastman and Rush were enrolled, agreed that money was the factor

that kept them away from their goal.

"The thing that beat us is that everyone we talked to said it's a

good idea and it's needed. But everyone we talked to on the money side said

we'll match anything you got," he said.

That prompted the group to go on a fund-raising frenzy and they

earned as much as $102,000, but somehow the corporate sponsorships never

came through.

"I just didn't have the connections to talk to the right people and

the money background to do it," Lydon said. "If we had one of these

Microsoft millionaires sitting on the deal with

us, we would've gotten it in no time."

"There's a lot of money out there, but no one wants to put it on the line."

Rush and Lydon remained active in the group's cause until just

several years ago when they ceded the reigns to the newly formed VRA in 1998.

Despite not being able to be an active member of the organization, Rush

said he has never lost the hope that one day there would be a pool in memory

of his son.

"I would hope that it could [still be a reality]," he said. "And I was

hoping they would hang on."

Even though the VRA won't continue to pursue the recreation

facility any further, Spencer said that doesn't mean the Lower Valley will never

have a pool in the future.

"I still have hope that as the population in the Valley grows, we

will reach critical mass and maybe an organization like the (YMCA) will

step up and do it," he said.

The VRA will host three meetings to explain to the community why

they decided to end the push for a pool in the Lower Valley. The meetings

will be held at 7 p.m. on May 23 at the Carnation Fire Department, May

24 at the Duvall Fire Department and May 25 at Fall City United

Methodist Church.

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