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A special meeting of the Mount Ayr city Council was held Wednesday, October 12 in the assembly room at the Ringgold County Courthouse to discuss efforts currently underway to build a new outdoor swimming pool at Judge Lewis Park and to create a multipurpose educational/recreational facility currently known as the Ringgold Center.
Mount Ayr city superintendent Brent Wise opened the discussion by providing some history to the current swimming pool.
“I’m sure most of us know that our pool was built in 1962,” Wise said, “and it’s had a lot of troubles over the years… In 2012 our pool was closed due to some malfunctions, and since 2013 the city has invested, with some partners, $185,597.76. Out of that, $124,499.18 has been invested in either engineering, studies, surveys, that sort of stuff.”
Wise stated in 2021 the city entered into an agreement with JEO, an engineering firm, to present several concepts and cost estimates for a new outdoor pool. Wise then handed out a drawing of the latest concept for a roughly 4,000 square-foot pool, which is smaller than the current 4,500 square-foot pool and 400 square-foot baby pool.
“One of the reasons we shrunk the sizes due to funding,” Wise said. “We felt like we needed to get closer to a $3 million pool. That’s why this project has been shrunk. This pool does not have any features in it. It’s plain Jane.” Wise added features, such as slides, sprays, climbing walls, etc., could be included via separate fundraising efforts.
The Mount Ayr city Council has voted in favor of moving forward with a referendum in March that could provide up to $2 million in funding for a “public pool,” without specifying whether it’s an indoor or outdoor pool. Revenue from the Local Option Sales Tax could also be available if the tax were renewed prior to its sunset in 2027.
Wise also addressed the condition of the current pool.
“Last year we lost an average of about 30,000 gallons a day,” he said. “We have torn up the deck to look at some, I would say, obvious situations that we can repair. We found some that might be more significant than what we want to deal with… The goal was to try to make it where it would still be viable for the next season or two.”
If the March referendum passes and other funding falls into place, Wise estimated a new outdoor pool could open in 2025.
Ringgold County Economic Development director Jodie Geist served as spokesperson for the group investigating the viability of a Ringgold Center. She opened her presentation by showing a news report from KCCI about a community facility in Woodbine that features an indoor pool, walking track, gymnasium space, fitness equipment, and meeting areas.
“The one thing I hear when I go to meetings across the state is community facilities like what we’re working towards our catalyst for economic development in communities,” she said. “And you couple that with the health and wellness push in the world right now, what a unique opportunity and what a great opportunity for the residents of Ringgold County.”
Geist handed out a flyer that summarized the vision for a Ringgold Center.
“Conversations about a community facility started over a year ago,” she said, “so we just have an overview of our project. There are a lot of questions we can’t answer. People are asking what’s going to be in it specifically, and we can’t because we are still fact-finding and getting to that stage. We’ve hired an architect and general contractor, and they will be in town at the end of the month to start conversations on that process.”
Geist emphasized the advantages provided by a community facility, including space for career and technical education as well as adult education, space for remote workers, a gathering place for community members, and increased health and wellness opportunities. In fact, Southwestern Community College in Creston is submitting a grant for $1 million in support of the Ringgold Center.
In reference to a proposed swimming pool at the Ringgold Center, Geist explained that a unique design.
“If there were to be a pool, it would be what we call a hybrid pool,” she said. “When I first thought about an indoor pool, I thought about the Y in Creston or a motel where you’re all contained in it smells like chlorine. A hybrid pool has big overhead doors so you can see out, and when it’s nice you can open it up and feel like you’re outside.”
Geist stated the proposed location of the Ringgold Center would be south of Ringgold County Hospital, which has already pledged the use of the land. In addition, a possible viaduct under Highway 169 would connect the schools to the hospital, Ringgold Trailway and the Ringgold Center.
Ringgold County Hospital president Joe Mangiamelli echoed the advantages of a hybrid pool.
“Having a hybrid pool, regardless of its location, really allows for the benefits of water therapy, whether it’s the resistance you get from the pool or it’s the relief on weight-bearing [joints],” he said. “If you have in orthopedic injury, those are immeasurable. And you don’t have that for a few months of the year with an outdoor pool.”
Mount Ayr city councilman Ken Robertson stated his reluctance to postponing the building of a new outdoor pool.
“I don’t think anybody is against a rec center,” he said, “[but] the community has told us all along through separate surveys that they want an outside pool. So do we build what a group of us wants or go with what the community wants? Do we wait five years for you guys to tell us what you’re going to do?”
Fellow Mount Ayr city councilman Brad Elliott stated his preference for the location near the hospital.
“Even if it’s an outdoor pool built next to this facility, I feel like it’s in the city’s interest to pool its money with the [Ringgold Center] project so we get a lot more bang for our buck. Rather than spending somewhere around $3 million [on a Judge Lewis Park pool], we can come up with the same contribution that is a catalyst for an even larger project to benefit the whole area.”
Brent Wise addressed the issue of postponing the building of a new pool.
“We met here July 31, 2018, with a presentation of a rehab of a pool which I think was in the neighborhood of $1.3 million,” he said. “Just to give people some perspective, in 2018 the cost for a pool was $480 per square foot, 2020 was $700 a square foot, and projected for 2025 is $750 per square foot. The longer we wait, the more expensive the costs.”
Wise also raised the question of the costs of operation for a year-round facility. He said the city budgets $75,000 per year to operate the pool. Revenue from the pool usually runs slightly less than $25,000, so the city is upside down about $50,000 in operating costs for a roughly 90-day season. A year-round facility would be open four times as long – would the operating costs also multiply by four to $200,000?
Councilman Elliott summed up the decision facing the city Council as well as supporters of the Ringgold Center facility.
“If the city is going to be involved in something, let’s write one check,” he said. “Let’s pick one mission. Let’s be a part of it. If we split those funds, our impact in terms of helping something that’s going to impact the city is greatly lopsided.”
More discussion on an outdoor pool or a hybrid pool will surely come leading up to the important referendum in March. Stay tuned.