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At their regular meeting Monday, July 15, the Mount Ayr city council received a detailed update on progress of the Ringgold County Wellness Center committee.
Committee members Abby Elliott and Regan Main summarized the findings of the public survey from earlier this spring and explained a new wrinkle in the concept for a wellness facility.
Elliott said the results of the survey clearly indicated something must be done to improve overall recreational and swimming options in the county. The survey found 45.9 percent of survey respondents are dissatisfied with current recreational opportunities while only 20.3 percent are satisfied.
Forty-five percent of survey respondents stated they would use either an outdoor or indoor pool, while 30.5 percent preferred an outdoor pool and 15.8 percent preferred an indoor pool.
While the committee recognizes the financial concerns associated with building and operating a wellness facility, they also contend cash flow of a year-round facility would offer a better return on investment than a seasonal facility open less than three months per year, weather permitting.
The survey found 57.5 percent of respondents would take advantage of an indoor pool “daily” to “at least once per month.”
A similar percentage – 54 percent – stated members of their families would use an outdoor pool “daily” to “at least once per month.”
Other recreational options receiving favorable responses included indoor walking/running track (69.1 percent), cardio equipment (63 percent), exercise classes (52.1 percent), outdoor splash pad (50.4 percent) and weight machines (50.1 percent).
Elliott and her husband, councilman Brad Elliott, detailed a recent visit to the town of Manning, which has a wellness facility that includes a “hybrid” pool facility.
After building a new high school in 1989, the city of Manning repurposed the old high school to house its city recreation programming. The facility includes an indoor pool and whirlpool, outdoor baby pool, gymnasium, fitness center, racquetball court and meeting rooms.
The indoor pool is outfitted with overhead doors that can be opened in warm weather to give the pool an outdoor feel. An adjacent outdoor seating area adds to the open-concept atmosphere.
The facility employs one full-time director along with seven part-time lifeguards that operate the facility over 360 days per year.
Expenses to operate the year-round came to $174,000 for fiscal year 2019. Through May, income from the facility was estimated at $107,000, bringing the operational deficit to an estimated $67,000 through May.
In comparison, expenses to operate the existing Mount Ayr pool for its three month season were $65,170 in FT 2019. With income totaling $24,000 in the same period, the operational deficit for the Mount Ayr pool came to $41,170.
The Mount Ayr pool operates with one part-time manager and 16 part-time lifeguards.
Average daily attendance at the Manning pool ranged from 45 in the summer to between 25-75 in other months.
Daily attendance in the fitness facility ranged from 30 in the summer to over 60 in other months.
In comparison, 66 was the average daily attendance between 2010-2015 at the Mount Ayr pool.
Daily admission fees between the two facilities were similar, with Mount Ayr charging $3-5 and Manning $4-6.
Longer term memberships were somewhat less expensive at Manning, where monthly family fees cost $34, as compared to Mount Ayr’s $54, and annual family memberships cost $125, compared to Mount Ayr’s $135.
Memberships in the Manning facility served approximately 500 people while Mount Ayr memberships served approximately 250.
Regan Main stated the concept of a hybrid facility might bring together those who favor an outdoor pool over an indoor pool, and vice versa.
“This might be a way to get everyone on the same page,” she said.
Abby Elliott explained that approximated $4.4 million in public and private grant opportunities exist to help build a hybrid facility.
She cited the city of Stanton, population 700, that recently built a $3.2 million community center with a gym, walking track, fitness center, meeting room with kitchen, public library and other amenities, but no pool.
She stated $495,000 in funding for the new facility came from individual donors with the remainder coming from grants and loans.
Main expressed the importance of having a variety of recreational opportunities available to attract new businesses and residents to Ringgold County.
Councilman Mack Greene stated his main concern is if any facility is financially feasible.
“I want to know who’s pitching in,” he said. “I don’t want all this expense falling back on the city.”
He cited the need to improve city streets as one urgent need facing the city.
Councilman Brent Ricker said kids are so busy these days with sports and other activities that some do not have time to use the pool.
Elliott responded that a wellness facility would be a healthy place for kids not involved in sports or other activities to hang out.
Elliott added the Wellness Coalition has a meeting planned to further explore the option of a hybird wellness facility and gather financial data and funding scenarios.
Near the end of the discussion, mayor Steve Fetty stated, “We already have a pool out there [Judge Lewis Park]. We need to study what we need to do with it. Fix it? Tear it out? We can’t wait for you guys.”
Fetty said city superintendent Brent Wise, who was absent from Monday’s meeting, had asked for the council’s authorization to explore costs related to a feasibility study on the existing pool.
After a short discussion, the council voted 5-0 to authorize Wise to research cost estimates. At this point, no other funding was approved.
In other business the council:
• rescinded an earlier motion to pay lifeguards $18 an hour to provide private swimming lessons. Instead, the guards will be compensated their regular hourly wage as stipulated in their employment agreements.
• approved payments totaling $219,821.16 from three contractors for work completed on the water distribution project and subsequent drawdowns totaling $249,369.02 from the CDBG grant and SRF loan to cover those payments plus engineering costs and other associated expenses.
In a related matter, councilman Ken Robertson alerted the council to a potential problem with project work around the square.
He shared pictures of a significant crack in the wall of Doug Still’s building at the corner of Madison and Taylor streets where crews have been replacing pipe. While it’s unknown at this time if the work on the water project caused the crack, Robertson cautioned the project engineers should be made aware of the potential for structural issues with surrounding buildings.
• City worker Lynn Rinehart informed the council a new hydraulic can tipper had been installed on the city garbage truck at a cost of $4,796.75.
• appointed Lynne Wallace as a new member of the library board. In addition, the council reappointed Cheryl Taylor, Rosemary Hullinger and Darrell Dodge to new six-year terms.