Community center raises questions
October 3, 2008 · Updated 12:43 AM
OK, I have been somewhat silent on the community center issue in Snoqualmie. Last Friday, I heard Dave Battey set the stage for the community center proposal by talking about the community center that once served the Valley in the town of Snoqualmie Falls. Then I heard George Cook, a member of the community center board, talk about some of the details of the proposed community center.
I deeply respect the efforts of both Dave and George and know their intentions are in the right spot. There is no question that a community center can continue traditions and provide a "sense of community."
I have to say, yes, I believe the community needs a new community center. But is the one proposed the right one, and have all the questions been answered?
First: the price tag at $9 million in bonds. Can we afford the structure proposed? I keep hearing that there are a lot of unknowns about maintenance and operations, revenues, etc.
I would say that a detailed budget should be created based on the work of other community centers in the region. The costs of running such a facility should be created from scratch and with as much detail as humanly possible with outlined assumptions. Revenue schedules should be produced based on population growth, usage assumptions and a realistic look at what to charge people. If it were a business going out for a loan (which is a pretty good analogy based on the proposed bond amount), then all the above information would be required. A two- to five-year operational plan should be generated to provide details about costs and revenue. If this work falls to the consultant, then let's press for detail. I just don't buy the argument that it's unknown, not when the voters are being asked to pay $9 million.
Once the operational expenses are known and a revenue schedule is created, what is the difference between the two on a yearly basis? Is it $300,000 or $400,000? Where will those funds come from and what other city programs will be impacted? Will public safety budgets be trimmed to pay for the new facility's operation? Will other parks suffer as a result of a shortfall in revenue? Is the council willing to trim elsewhere to pay for the new community center?
I have to admit, I was on the original Phase I committee that looked at the proposed community center and viewed many other community centers in the area. Why has the work of the original committee, only four years old, been completely thrown out? I have not heard one reference to the work that was done by the original committee.
We concluded, at that time, that a pool was likely to be too costly initially and that a phased approach might be in the best interests of the community from an affordability perspective. I can understand the desire to have the whole enchilada from the beginning, but can Snoqualmie afford the cost? A common theme among community center operators was the costs associated with a pool.
About the pool: I have heard that the school district is interested in using the pool to start a swim team for Mount Si High School. I think that's a great idea, so I would assume the pool would be large enough for practices and to hold meets. But it appears the pool is not, in fact, large enough to hold meets. I have heard references that revenue from the school district would offset the shortfall in operational funding. Frankly, I can't imagine that the school district would pay any substantial amount to practice in the pool, nor would we want them to pay any substantial amount. The point is, the school district should not be counted on as a major source of revenue for any new pool. But beyond that, why wouldn't a pool for the new community center be large enough to hold high-school swim meets in?
Next is a subject near and dear to any effort within the Valley: marketing. Yes, some great brochures have been created. They are fancy, good looking - a bit vague, but nice. But beyond some flyers and brochures, very little, it appears, has been done to market the community center. Sure maybe every person on the Ridge or even in Snoqualmie knows all the intimate details about the community center but, as touted by George Cook, it will take everyone in the Valley to make this thing fly from a revenue standpoint.
So why hasn't the marketing been done at a broader level from the beginning? Why hasn't a grass-roots campaign been kicked into gear to talk about the benefits to the whole community, not just Snoqualmie? Is the consultant for the project resting on the laurels of a slick brochure to make sure we say yes?
This Valley has long had a tradition of grass-roots campaigns to get what we want, from school-district funding to new fire engines. I would hate to see the community center fail because there is no grass-roots campaign to broaden the minds of all Valley voters or potential users.
As of this writing, I have been informed the community center task force will no longer be meeting, that there is some disagreement among its ranks. With that said, what is the plan if the bond levy passes? What is the plan if it fails? Is there still a phased approach in the cards, or is it an all-or-nothing proposition? Will the Valley need to think about a parks district that encompasses the whole Valley and takes into account all funding of parks?
The last election has shown that Snoqualmie voters are some of the smartest, most informed around. I have full confidence that these questions are already floating throughout the minds of many voters, but ultimately it will come down to their wallets. Will the citizens of Snoqualmie be willing to fund this community center without all their questions answered in detail?
Find out exactly what it will cost before you make your decision. Affordability is always a concern and should be forefront in your minds as you head to the polls in November.