Water, water everywhere: aquatic facility planned

The future of playing with water in the Snoqualmie Valley could change dramatically in the next few years. Snoqualmie residents seem to support an expanded community center with a pool, the Snoqualmie Valley Parks and Recreation Regional Task Force is planning a regional aquatic facility and King County hopes to buy land in North Bend that one day could host a resort with an indoor water park.

Jessi Richardson, director of Si View Metropolitan Park District, wants to make sure the different pool ideas don't get in each others' way.

"Valley residents have indicated in more ways than one that aquatics are a high priority," Richardson said.

She cited the city of Snoqualmie's recent survey indicating a majority of people want, and are willing to support a levy to pay for, a community center that includes a leisure pool, and a park district survey in May and June that shows 70 percent of district residents said a new indoor aquatic facility is needed as two examples of support for water-based recreation.

Snoqualmie has $3 million and land already from a deal with Snoqualmie Ridge developers.

Richardson presented the task force's concept for a regional aquatic facility to the Snoqualmie City Council Monday, Aug. 14.

"This is a good opportunity," she said.

However, city leaders decided instead to craft an ordinance putting an operations levy for their own smaller pool before voters in November. The park district must put a counter proposal together prior to the city's Aug. 28 meeting, when the council will debate the ordinance, said city clerk Jody Warren.

If Snoqualmie city leaders choose instead to support the idea of a smaller city pool in conjunction with the community center, it pretty much would kill the idea of a regional aquatic facility, Richardson said.

The park district envisions a facility with a 25-meter competition-size pool and a second leisure pool and water recreation area that would help subsidize the costs of operating the larger pool.

"We need [Snoqualmie] as a partner," Richardson said.

A separate Snoqualmie pool not only would compete with a regional facility for users, it would increase operating costs in several ways: by reducing the size of the tax base to support the pool, by reducing the potential number of users and by increasing operating costs needed to run separate facilities rather than one new pool, Richardson said. She said the levy cost to taxpayers would be the same per $1,000 property value - comparing a Snoqualmie-only facility and regional center -because it would be spread over a larger area.

"Aquatic facilities are expensive to build and operate," she said.

Without Snoqualmie on board, the park district likely would reduce the scope of its concept to a smaller pool to serve park district residents only. The park district, formed in 2003, operates parks in a 27-square-mile area that includes Fire District No. 38 and the city of North Bend.

The district now operates the pool at the Si View Community Center. Built in 1938, it was recently updated but is still too small to serve even just North Bend, Richardson said. It's already fully booked for classes with no time to expand, she said.

Even if Snoqualmie signs on to the regional aquatic facility concept, it isn't just a matter of building a bigger center on the designated 4-acre site on Snoqualmie Ridge. Richardson said a 10-acre site likely would be needed for the size of the facility the park district and its task force envision. She said a location near Interstate 90, preferably at the Highway 18 interchange, would be best for access.

If the city were to build its own small pool there, with a community center, it would need at least $8 million beyond the $3 million it already has, according to city cost estimates.

Richardson said very preliminary ballpark estimates for the regional aquatic facility would be about $12 million. That's why a regional approach is needed to spread the tax load and user-fee load around, she said.

County competition?

Another potential competitor for the regional aquatic facility is King County's plan to encourage a resort complex with an indoor water park on property it hopes to acquire next to Tanner Landing, just northeast of North Bend on the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River by Exit 32 on Interstate 90.

Richardson said it is tough to plan for the county's regional water park idea because there isn't much information available yet.

The county is still in the process of acquiring property adjacent to the current park. A new appraisal was expected Aug. 14. Tom Tiegen, strategic partnerships and enterprise initiative program manager for King County's Parks and Recreation Division, said the county is considering a spectrum of possibilities for the property, should the county decide to move forward with buying it.

"A water park may or may not be an element," he said.

Tiegen and other county officials met with the park district's task force June 28 to discuss the potential for the water park. He described it as a "house of cards," needing many delicate elements to properly come together before it could become a reality.

He said it could be several years before anything happened. Whatever the county does decide to do, he urged the park district to move forward with its regional aquatic center plans.

"Do your thing," Tiegen said. "We won't do anything counter productive to that."

Tiegen described the vision as an idea to take advantage of the I-90 corridor and the proximity to Seattle and Eastern Washington. The area is an ideal destination location for tourists from around the state and beyond. The county would encourage a private company to build on its property. The first resort could serve as an incentive for further private resorts and recreational development.

He cited the Wisconsin Dells, a resort area in central Wisconsin known for its many indoor and outdoor water parks and resorts, as an example of the type of development the county envisions.

Because the resort water parks often are open only to guests, the water park likely wouldn't draw local users away from a regional aquatic center, he said in June. The water park resort idea might fizzle if it lacks local support, he said.

If it does, the county is still interested in the property next to Tanner Landing because of the potential to improve recreational opportunities at the park. The land is zoned for regional business, so it would have numerous potential uses that could increase recreational opportunities in the area, Tiegen said.

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