Snoqualmie is considering options for moving forward with a $12.5 million expansion to its community center, which city officials hope could break ground in 2021.
The current community center on Snoqualmie Ridge was completed in 2011 and is about 13,000 square feet in size. The city is looking at options to increase it either to about 37,000 or 40,000 square feet, depending on what types of facilities are decided upon. The community center is owned by the city, but the YMCA of Greater Seattle operates and maintains the center, and consequently collects membership dues.
On Aug. 12, the city council during a meeting directed Mayor Matt Larson to begin reaching out to partners to hash out funding and feature details. Larson will then provide the council with a range of options for the expansion. In its proposed 2020-2025 capital improvements plan, the city is setting aside $10 million to be used for the community center. The YMCA has agreed to seek state grants to roughly meet the remaining amount of the $12.5 million.
That would provide the funding to build an aquatics center with a three-lane pool and a separate warm-water activities pool, as well as exercise space. The option would allow the community center to grow to about 37,000 square feet.
“What we’re talking about is pretty much ending up with a building that’s triple the size,” said YMCA spokesperson Nate Smith.
The Snoqualmie YMCA has some 3,500 members, with about 85 percent of those members living within the city of Snoqualmie, he said. Monthly fees range in cost, but a family with one adult can buy a membership for their dependants and children for $88 a month. Smith said they’re talking with Snoqualmie to see if a new facility would result in a fee increase.
Larson said the city has twice in the past tried to pass bonds to run a city-operated community center, but the measures failed both times. Instead, they decided to partner with the YMCA to provide services in 2011 when the center was competed.
City spokesperson Joan Pliego said the city does not have a recreational activities program and currently could not run its own community center.
“That would be a recreational program which we don’t have the bandwidth for, so that’s not a consideration,” Pliego said.
To gauge interest in the expansion, the city partnered with EMC Research to conduct a phone survey. The survey data was generated from 300 respondents and results were reported at an Aug. 1 city council meeting by EMC principal Ian Stewart.
In the survey, 88 percent were from Snoqualmie Ridge and the remainder were from downtown Snoqualmie or elsewhere. The survey had about a 5-percent margin of error and found that about 70 percent of residents thought expanding the community center was a good idea.
However, at the Aug. 12 meeting, Snoqualmie city councilmembers Matthew Laase and Peggy Shepard expressed concerns about moving forward with the $10 million in city funding for the project based on the survey. Instead, they urged the council and mayor to put the expansion on the November ballot for approval by voters.
“Although I understand the statistics and validities of the surveys, I feel that the potential expenditure of upwards of $10 million should be the vote of the people,” Laase told the Record.
The city can move forward by two avenues to secure the funding, either by council action or a general vote. The first is known as councilmatic bonding, where the council agrees to pay back the $10 million over the course of 20 years without raising taxes. That would not go to a citywide vote.
“I would like to know beyond a survey whether or not the people of Snoqualmie want to have this facility. Without clear definition of what the facility would encompass, I think it’s premature,” Laase said. “We’re putting the cart ahead of the horse on this one.”
Laase said the council can initiate a councilmatic bond vote, but to put a measure on the November ballot would require approval from the city’s administration. Larson said he has so far favored the councilmatic approach because it gives potential funding partners, like the Snoqualmie Valley School District, King County and the Si View Metropolitan Park District more time to try to secure funds.
Larson said the YMCA also needs time to pursue a $2.2 million state grant before the 2019 Washington state Legislative session.
“My goal is to have some of the key partners on this clarified by the end of September,” Larson said.
Larson said the council’s authorization on Aug. 12 meant he could continue talking with both the Snoqualmie Valley School District as well as the Si View parks. Both have expressed interest in developing an aquatics facility. The school district’s communications director was out of the office when the Record reached out. Larson said the school district had expressed interest in developing a six-lane pool, instead of a three lane pool.
A larger pool at the Snoqualmie community center would increase its total size to about 40,000 square feet, Larson said, and increase the price tag to about $16 million. Funding left over from the school district’s recent bond which funded modernization for various schools could potentially be used if approved by the school district, he said.
The school district also could try to reach an agreement with Si View parks to build a facility outside of Snoqualmie. The Snoqualmie EMC survey found mixed results from residents for spending city money on a facility outside of city limits. Larson said he thinks a three-lane pool at the community center would serve Snoqualmie residents well, coupled with another larger pool elsewhere.
For the city’s portion of the funding, which is set at $10 million, Larson said a variety of funding tools could be used to pay it off over 20 years. Some $4 million could come out of the capital funds budget, which largely has been retained from one-time revenues stemming from the Snoqualmie Ridge development.
That would bring down the total to $6 million to be paid by the city over 20 years. Annually, it pencils out to about $430,000 the city would need to pay, Larson said.
On Aug. 6, King County voters approved Proposition 1, a countywide parks levy with an additional $44 million earmarked for aquatics programs. Snoqualmie will receive some $160,000 annually from the proposition, which the council could allocate towards paying off the community center.
Snoqualmie city hall’s debt is expected to expire in 2021. Following that, the roughly $230,000 utility tax capacity which has been funding city hall could be directed toward the community center, Larson said.
The two revenue streams would leave the city on the hook for $40,000 each year, Larson said. He’s hopeful the city could secure additional funding from the $44 million for aquatics facilities approved in Proposition 1 to further reduce the city’s cost.
“We’ve tried to think it through pretty well,” Larson said.
However, Laase said he would like to see any expansions of the community center funded through the city’s existing revenue, instead of through outside money. He also said he would like further validation beyond the survey that funding an expansion is what residents want.
“If I can be convinced of that, I will follow that path,” he said. “If I can’t be convinced, I will be against the expansion of the community center.”
Larson hopes to have additional scoping and partnership information returned to the council by the end of September.