Snoqualmie approves community center expansion contract

Snoqualmie is attempting to expand its community center, but funding sources remains uncertain

Snoqualmie is making a push to finally expand its community center after a decade of efforts, but there are still questions about whether the city will ultimately have the funding to complete the project.

Following a lengthy discussion, the Snoqualmie City Council unanimously approved a $1.88 million design-build contract on Aug. 14 with Absher Construction.

Phase 1 of the contract will provide the city with designs and cost estimates for the expansion, including a guaranteed maximum price expected by early 2024. Based on those results, the city council will decide how, or if, they will proceed to phase 2, which is construction.

Mayor Katherine Ross called approval of the contract a major milestone in completing the project.

“The contract will assist the city in determining the project price to expand the community center,” she said in a press release. “This expansion would enable the YMCA to provide important programs.”

Exactly how much the facility will cost — and whether it will be in reach for the city — is still unknown. Over the years, financial difficulties have prevented the city from expanding the undersized community center or adding a swimming pool.

After about a decade of work and a pair of failed ballot measures, the city was finally able to complete its community center in 2012, after receiving funds from the developer of the Snoqualmie Ridge neighborhood.

But those funds weren’t enough to build what city leaders had envisioned, and the center opened at one-third of the size of what had been originally planned. Efforts to expand the facility since then have been unsuccessful, as the population has grown another 30%.

At the same time, the current YMCA-run community center remains popular. According to the city, it’s being used by 40% of residents, but its size has led to overcrowding and limitations on programming.

The city is attempting to fund the massive expansion project without raising property taxes on residents through a voter-approved bond, meaning it will likely be relying significantly on grants and outside partners.

A prior estimate for expansion, which included adding a six-lane pool and tripling its floor space, came in at $28.3 million. City administrator Mike Chambless called recent estimates a“guess off a guess,” and cited a need to figure out the true cost.

“That’s not real data,” he said of the calculation. “I want to get the hard number.”

In its 2023-24 budget, the city has a little over $15 million earmarked for the expansion project. Any remaining costs, according to the city, would be addressed through grants and partnerships with the YMCA, Snoqualmie Valley School District and state Legislature.

While the design-build contract ended up with unanimous approval, a couple of councilmembers were hesitant to approve the $1.88 million contract (potentially lowered to $900,000 with a grant from King County Parks received in June) without knowing exactly where other funds would be coming from and if they’d have enough of them.

Councilmember James Mayhew stressed a nearly $1 million design contract was a significant investment for the city on a project “we don’t have funding for.” Mayor Pro Tem Bryan Holloway, meanwhile, called the contract “a bet” that the city could find enough funding partners.

Councilmember Cara Christensen said while she shared concerns about going forward without “knowing exactly where the funds are coming from,” she noted the only way they would be able to deliver on bringing a pool to the community would be taking this initial step.

“We have to think back to what residents have been asking us for years. I constantly hear people wanting a pool,” she said. “Everything is at capacity, and we have this great opportunity to invest in the families in the communities, and being able to offer things like water safety is huge.”

There could also be financial benefits to bring the project further along, said Drew Bouta, the city’s budget manager. Having a project that’s “shovel ready” could help attract additional investors and supporters to help close any potential funding gap, he said.

A large part of the expansion involves bringing a pool to the facility. Currently, the only community pool in the upper Valley is run by the Si View Metropolitan Parks District. That facility, built over 80 years ago, is undersized and regularly has swim lesson waitlists in the hundreds.

In 2019, Si View asked the city to partner with them on one community-wide pool proposal, but the city council rejected the offer, citing among other things the challenges of passing a voter-approved bond.

Since then, the city and Si View have attempted separate proposals to expand their facilities. Last month, Si View’s board of directors sent a capital bond to the general election ballot, aiming to fund a replacement pool in North Bend.

Both projects are seeking financial support from the school district, which has noted a desire for a new pool to provide recreational opportunities to students and athletes. Representatives of Si View and the city presented to the school board earlier this year.

In a letter, Snoqualmie Valley School District Superintendent Dan Schlotfeldt wrote that while the Valley population has grown, access to recreation, particularly aquatic programs, has remained stagnant.

“SVSD supports the city and YMCA in bringing a public pool and aquatic center to the Snoqualmie Community Center to meet the high demand of the growing community,” he wrote. “Swimming and other aquatic sports provide positive health, social and recreational benefits not currently available to residents of the Snoqualmie Valley.”

The SVSD school board has yet to make financial allocations to either group. In a statement, the district said it supports both projects.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to add additional information.