Call To Order:
School Board President Adair Dingle called the meeting to order at 4:36 pm in the Council Chambers of City Hall, 9611 SE 36th Street, Mercer Island, Washington.
Councilmembers Bruce Bassett, Mike Cero, Mike Grady (arrived 5:38 pm), Dan Grausz, Deputy Mayor El Jahncke and Mayor Jim Pearman (arrived 4:41 pm), were present. Councilmember Steve Litzow was absent.
School Board Directors Pat Braman, Janet Frohnmayer, David Myerson, Vice President Lisa Strauch Eggers and President Adair Dingle were present.
City Manager Rich Conrad, Superintendent Gary Plano and facilitator Steve Foreman were present.
Discuss the Partnerships and Relationships with the MISD Board (Mary Wayte Pool)
Board President Dingle introduced facilitator Steve Forman who described his background and the agenda for the evening. He explained that the discussion will be at a high level regarding the Mary Wayte Pool with two objectives:
1. Determine if the pool should be kept open in the short term; and
2. Assess if there is a desire to have a public pool on Mercer Island
Superintendent Plano provided the history of the Mary Wayte Pool. He explained that the land is owned by the Mercer Island School District and was operated by King County as a regional pool until 2002. It then transferred operation to Northwest Center, with subsidies from the City and private fundraising. Northwest Center has decided to cease operating the Mary Wayte Pool, but under the agreement with King County, if the pool is still functioning the pool must remain open until June 2011.
City Manager Conrad explained that the pool will close December 31, 2010 unless an operator is found to keep it open and beyond June 2011. He stated that proposals will be brought forward to the City Council and the School Board, but he reiterated that the question before the bodies is “should the City and School District keep the pool open in the short term?” He further explained that the users of the pools should expect the same levels of service during the interim time period.
He further stated that staff was asked by the City/School Board Ad Hoc Committee to conduct a survey instrument to gauge public’s interest and demand in pool services and evaluate the facility to determine the physical condition of Mary Wayte Pool and what upgrades may be needed.
Superintendent Plano described the function and timeline of the Board’s Facility Sub-Committee as it relates to re-purposing the North Mercer campus and the Master Plan for all School District campuses. He stated that the Committee will complete its work in the next 12-18 months and that the Board has decided to not make any decisions about School District facilities until the Committee has completed their work.
Facilitator Forman then asked each Councilmember and Board Director to provide their feedback on whether or not the pool should be kept open in the short term.
Board President Dingle supports a public pool facility as essential to the community. She believes it is needed it to teach kids to swim. She stated that there are many private pools on Mercer Island, but not everyone is a member. She also believes it is needed for school sports and for fitness to stay in shape. She expressed concern that surveying may miss some community needs as some users of the pool are not voting adults.
Councilmember Grausz agreed with President Dingle’s comments.
Councilmember Bassett stated that Manny Ocampo looked at other facilities to use during interim period of time. Deputy Mayor Jahncke questioned the feedback. City Manager Conrad stated that there is some capacity for the High School swim program to buy some time at other pools, but some pools have waiting lists.
Deputy Mayor Jahncke stated that it is desirable to have a public pool, but he does not think it is essential. He believes there is a need to find a solution for School District swimming programs, but he stated that some programs already use facilities off-island. President Dingle explained that the teams are too large to use Mary Wayte which is why they use other regional facilities. Deputy Mayor Jahncke also stated that a new pool will cost more and the rates for use will have to be higher.
City Manager Conrad stated that Northwest Center is losing about $50,000 per year. Northwest Center was asked to stay on for two more years, with the possibility of the City and MISD splitting the costs, but the Northwest Center Board declined the offer as they want out of the pool business. Deputy Mayor Jahncke asked what the other options are. City Manager Conrad reiterated that this discussion would not include details, but one option is a third party operator who has approached the City.
Director Frohnmayer stated that she would like to keep the pool open in the short term and supports the Superintendent and the City Manager doing further research for detailed operation options.
Director Braman supports comments made by President Dingle, Councilmember Bassett and Director Frohnmayer.
Councilmember Cero supports looking at options and would like to see the pool stay open during the interim period. He is not sure if the pool is essential, but it is definitely desirable. He would like to look at ways that demand could be alleviated with a senior option at private pools on the Island.
City Manager Conrad suggested that staff would come back to the City-School District Ad Hoc Committee with options and then would take proposals to the two bodies.
Mayor Pearman agreed with President Dingle’s comments and thinks surveying the community is important.
Facilitator Forman summarized the comments from the Council and Board and determined that the two bodies will move forward with finding options for the pool to stay open in the short term.
Facilitator Forman then posed the second question to the Council and Board about assessing whether or not there should be a new public pool on Mercer Island.
City Manager Conrad observed that pool operations is a service that neither the City nor the School District is currently in, but it has been a service the community has had for 40 years. He believes that having a public pool on Mercer Island is a discretionary service and the decision is value-based and a quality of life question for the community. He stated that right now there are more questions marks than data as the costs of a community pool are not known or if the current style of Mary Wayte Pool pool is the right kind of pool for Mercer Island. He suggested that pool ownership and operation is a service that the private sector is in and maybe a private-public partnership should be looked at. He posed the question: “Is the City or the School District the right bodies to take this on?”
Superintendent Plano agreed that it is a value question and that the District has to be a part of the discussion.
Facilitator Forman refocused the group and stated that Mercer Island might need and value a public swimming pool, but asked if there is a sufficient sense of possibility to invest in the inquiry.
City Manager Conrad asked “What is the collective sense of the Council and Board in providing pool services?” He asked, “What do you need to know to answer the values question?”
Councilmember Bassett supports asking the question.
Deputy Mayor Jahncke supports a survey that would ask citizens if they would be willing to pay a pre-determined about for the pool.
President Dingle expressed her concern with the scale of pool and posited that it might become a regional center.
Councilmember Grausz was concerned that a survey would not give information that would ensure a vote would pass.
City Manager Conrad stated that the survey tool was proposed to the Ad Hoc Committee as a way to gauge what the demand for the pool is.
Mayor Pearman inquired about how they would ask citizens if they find value in a facility they may have never used. He stated that he supports using multiple methodologies to determine if there should be a public pool.
Councilmember Grausz would like to see a community process that determines what the facility should look like, but not a survey that asks yes or no questions.
Director Braman stated that the Jewish Community Center (JCC) is looking at renovating their pool. She asked how that might fit into the short term and long term plans. She expressed concern they are moving along with their process and do not want to wait very long.
Councilmember Bassett spoke about the School District master planning process where the plan was developed, it was put out to community and then the Board put a committee together to gather input. He asked if this is maybe the way to go with pool. He suggested developing plausible option and then getting input from the community.
City Manager Conrad proposed creating three approaches for public comment: 1) illustrate the trade-offs, size, site, etc.; 2) public versus private financing; and 3) public-private financing.
Deputy Mayor Jahncke asked what the JCC’s schedule is as it will determine what the City and Board’s schedule would be.
Mayor Pearman stated that the City and Board may be able to give up looking at the issue at a broader sense as there is a short-term issue that could solve the need. But he cautions going too fast as the last pool has been here 40 years. He understands the opportunity and the timing of a short-term opportunity, but there is a risk in taking time to look everything over.
Councilmember Grady is concerned about use of public funds and the RFP/RFQ process. City Manager Conrad stated that an RFP/RFQ process could be used and may be a valuable way to solicit proposals, but it is not required.
President Dingle asked how is the demand determined if the size and scope of the facility is not known; is money better spent determining size of facility that is needed rather than survey.
City Manager Conrad explained that a pool expert will soon have to be hired to produce information to get out to the public regarding pool size and site options. Information will have to be produced in order for people to react to guide the scope of the facility.
Councilmember Grausz stated that a few needs are already known: school swim programs and lessons for children. He was unclear as to how the JCC would accommodate the plans for an aquatic center on their current site.
City Manager Conrad stated that the JCC may need to acquire more land to accommodate the plans for their pool.
Deputy Mayor Jahncke stated that there is a need for a comparative analysis to see the capital costs of new pool versus rebuilding Mary Wayte Pool and what would the subsidies have to be. He reminded the group that revenues rarely cover the costs in public facilities.
Superintendent Plano stated that King County got into the same dilemma and had to off-load parks and pools. He thinks that Mary Wayte Pool has a great customer base but not a good business model to cover the costs.
Councilmember Cero cautioned the group that using the entire population of 22,000 as possible users of a public pool would not work as he believed 1/3 of the populations belongs to a private club on the Island. He thinks the JCC is a unique opportunity that could work, but if it doesn’t a public pool decision will have to go to the voters. He would like to see frugality and look more at a pool sized facility versus an aquatic center as many people belong to private pools. He expressed concern that capital projects make it look like money is being saved, but often maintenance and operations is not included in the project. He would like to see ten or twenty years of maintenance and operations costs considered as part of the vote.
Director Braman referred to the pool report and stated that Option #4 (New or Re-Modeled Facility on the Current Mary Wayte Site) is not a viable option as there is not enough parking at the current location and the impervious surface is over the limit. She also stated that she is not ready to go for Option #1 (Mary Wayte Pool Closed and Not Replaced), if ever.
Superintendent Plano stated that the District can enter into an agreement with the JCC without the City’s input. He stated that he would be surprised if the Board took a public pool proposition to the voters without the partnership of the City.
Mayor Pearman asked what level of subsidy is okay for a public pool; how much revenue it will generate.
Councilmember Grausz noted that PEAK is the opposite model of what has been discussed for the pool so far. He suggested looking at a private organization running the pool and then making public contribution to be a partner of the pool.
Superintendent Plano posed that the District would go as equal partners with the City in talking to the JCC, but if City is not involved in the talks, then the District will most likely talk to the JCC about a possible public/private partnership where the District assists with a renovated pool in exchange for guaranteed pool time over the next many decades.
President Dingle reminded the group that the swimming needs beyond K-12 are out of the Board’s scope and it becomes a community issue.
Councilmember Grady believes that Option #2 (Joint Jewish Community Center/Community Aquatics Facility) is the best option, but he would like to see both parties work together for the entire community.
Councilmember Bassett is comfortable with the District saying they do not want another pool in the current Mary Wayte site and wants to look at options with the JCC.
Director Myerson stated that people use the pool and if a public facility is built at the same site there is not enough space to accommodate a regional aquatic center. He thinks that the facility should be built to accommodate Mercer Islanders and not necessarily to draw others. He believes the City and the District do serve the same people and he is unwilling to rule out Option #4 (New or Re-Modeled Facility on the Current Mary Wayte Site) since a bond issue would have to pass to build a new school as well as a new pool.
Director Frohnmayer is in favor of exploring options, but she is torn between exhausting the JCC idea and come up with another idea if JCC doesn’t work.
Vice-President Eggers asked how the conversation is moved to next level. She believes the baseline has to be discussion of values, but there are so many qualifiers which could quickly erode the discussion. She thinks it would be helpful to agree on a set of values and then move forward with the expectation of a proposal.
City Manager Conrad urged the group not to gravitate toward a specific option right now as not enough is known yet. He suggested pursuing the possibilities with the JCC, but to also develop an alternative in order to apply values and communities needs. He suggested hiring a professional to determine what the alternative options could be.
Deputy Mayor Jahncke stated that he would want to find out what the JCC’s schedule and plan is before hiring a consultant.
Councilmember Bassett suggested having staff find out what other pools that have been built or remodeled in the region have cost.
Superintendent Plano asked if the Council and the Board should work independently to describe what success looks like.
Councilmember Grady believes that the City and District should look at the JCC now as a possible option.
Mayor Pearman stated that he assumes the JCC has done mission and value assessment for their new facility. He suggested the City and District do one also and see if they line up.
President Dingle stated that the School District knows what they need a pool for, but the pool currently serves a much broader community. She asked what needs are not being met? She would like to see a summary of current use and some sort of assessment of needs that could be further met.
Facilitator Forman stated that everyone has confirmed that assessing if there is a desire to have a public pool on Mercer Island is important work and an analysis will be valuable to the community as a joint effort between the City and the School District.
Councilmember Grausz stated that a lead needs to be determined for going forward. He suggested that City staff take the lead, while including School District staff all along the way, and make inquiries with the JCC.
City Manager Conrad summarized that City and School District staff will work with the JCC to see what a possible proposal would be and then staff would report back to the City-School District Ad Hoc Committee with the findings. He also stated that staff will assemble any additional information about other options and present that to the Committee as well. Staff would then bring it forward to the two bodies when the Committee is comfortable with the options. He believes this will happen in late winter or early spring.
All were in agreement with the City Manager’s proposal.
The City Manager and Superintendent understood from the discussion that the group consensus was to not conduct a survey right now, but instead to design and conduct a public process in 2011 that would inform the public of the issues, assess demand for a public swimming facility and clarify community values regarding aquatics services.