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No action has been taken by the Mount Ayr city council to move forward with constructing a new pool since the bond referendum and local sales tax passed on March 7, 2023, providing an avenue to fund the design, construction and operation of a public swimming pool/aquatic center/multi-faceted facility. The Mount Ayr Record News looked into the history of various plans and actions taken to provide options for a new public pool in Mount Ayr since 2007. This article is the first of a 3-part series showcasing the work of many people over the past 16 years.
By Jennifer Kellner
Over 15 years ago, in the fall of 2007, a group of community leaders began to discuss the future of the city’s aging swimming pool at Judge Lewis Park.
The group then went to the Mount Ayr city council and shared their concerns and interest in researching ideas for a new aquatic facility.
After gaining support from the City of Mount Ayr, the Mount Ayr Aquatic Center planning committee held their first official meeting on Tuesday, September 18 at 6:30 p.m. at the Ringgold County Courthouse assembly room. Roughly 20 people attended the meeting and 40 more people expressed interest in the project.
After the initial meeting, the group researched 15 other towns similar in size to Mount Ayr across IA, MO, NE with aquatic centers or a public pool.
Each person gathered information about one community to compare the size, cost to construct, admission fees, maintenance costs, construction contact information, funding sources, cost to insure the facility, gallons of water used, heated or unheated, amenities such as bath houses, whether pool was indoor or outdoor, and how many people used the facility.
At that time, there was mention of an indoor facility that could also be used by the hospital, public health, senior citizens, schools, support services and the nursing home year-round at that time. It was noted that the upkeep and expenses on this type of facility might be more than could be handled here. It was also noted that if a storm shelter was part of the plan, there was possible project funding from FEMA. Anyone interested in the potential project was encouraged to attend the next meeting on October 30, at 6:30 p.m at the Ringgold County courthouse assembly room.
On November 19, 2007, Teresa Jackson, the Ringgold County Emergency Management director at that time, returned to the City Council along with Jeremy Rounds from the Southern Iowa Council of Governments.
They discussed a possible grant being considered through Homeland Security (FEMA) that could help fund a storm shelter as part of the aquatic center project. However, preliminary plans for the bath house/storm shelter portion of the project were needed to apply for the grant.
The council, recognizing that the new center would be a plus for the community, told the group that the city did not have major funds to contribute to the effort. Although they were supportive, no decisions were made at that time.
Don Solliday, the Mayor at that time, continued to keep the City Council informed about Aquatic Center Group meetings and encouraged council members to work closely with the committee.
On February 18, 2008, Leslie Dredge-Murphy attended the city council meeting to provide an update to the city and ask for the council’s commitment to provide city funds to operate and maintain the aquatic center, as is the case with the current pool.
The council gave the assurance the group needed to move forward securing grants for the project. Murphy noted that the committee working on the project would make every effort to keep the project affordable and easy to maintain.
On April 21, 2008, Aquatic Center Committee members returned to the city council to request hiring an engineering and architectural firm with experience in aquatic center projects. The committee selected Burbach Aquatics Inc. after interviewing several firms.
A feasibility study, which would include information on the size, proposed placement and estimated cost, was necessary to proceed with grant applications.
The committee had received $2,000 in donations to handle the cost of the study. Council members Rotert, Greenman, Feeback, Still, and Cannon unanimously approved the resolution to sign the contract for Phase I of the project (Resolution No. 2008-388 entitled, “Resolution Approving The Entering Into A Professional Services Agreement Between The City Of Mount Ayr And Burbach Aquatics Inc., For Professional Services For The Proposed Swimming Pool/Family Aquatic Center Project.”)
In August of 2008, the first preliminary drawing for a new proposed aquatic facility to replace the swimming pool in Judge Lewis Park were drawn up to include with grant proposals. It was projected to cost about $2.7 million.
On December 15, 2008, the Aquatic Center committee presented two items required to apply for the FEMA Grant to construct a storm shelter at the proposed aquatic center to the city council. Council members Rotert, Greenman, Feeback, Still, and Cannon, unanimously adopted Resolution No. 2008-403 entitled, “State Of Iowa Designation Of Applicant’s Authorized Representative,” and Resolution No. 2008-404 entitled, “Local Match Resolution No. 2008-404 For The Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.”
On January 5, 2009, Aquatic Center committee members brought the council up to date on the project to replace the pool in Judge Lewis Park. The council was asked to complete a planning arrangement with Burbach Aquatics Inc. of Platteville, WI, which has been working with the local committee on the design.
The council voted to accept an amendment to the agreement for design of the aquatic center with a note that says billing for Phase II or Phase III will not be done until the project had been funded.
The City of Mount Ayr also authorized Burbach Aquatics Inc. to initiate and complete Phase II (the swimming pool portion) and Phase III in accordance to the agreement. Grants had already been sought to build the bath house for Phase I of the project.
On February 19, 2009 plans for a new aquatic center were shared with the public, and funding it was the next big step to replace the swimming pool at Judge Lewis Park in Mount Ayr.
The new facility included a zero-entry pool area for the youngest swimmers, a big water slide area as well as a deeper diving area and swimming lane area.
The bath house would double as a storm shelter for park users, and public restrooms which would be accessible from outside the pool.
The group behind the project hoped to build the facility with community donations, grants and fund-raising (without using bonds or direct tax money). The City of Mount Ayr Family Aquatic Center was the name being used by the committee working on the project, and included co-chairs Leslie Dredge Murphy, Meredith Dredge and Angie Glendenning; secretary Tammy Rychnovsky, treasurer Jodi Haley along with Clint Spurrier. Burbach Aquatics from Platteville, WI did the design for the project.
The Aquatic Center Committee continued writing grants from a number of sources to get the project off the ground.
On March 16, 2009 the council signed the application for a Federal Emergency Management grant for the $540,000 storm shelter and bath house – just one part of the new aquatic center. The city had a three-year time frame for the aquatic committee to raise the rest of the funds needed for the project. As grant funds started coming in, all project money (including donations) was then transferred to the city of Mount Ayr, who served as the fiscal agent.
On December 10, 2009 the council voted to approve a letter of engagement to have the Southern Iowa Council of Governments serve as the administrative agent on the Federal Emergency Management Agency grant for a storm shelter and bathhouse project underway for Judge Lewis Park.
The grant was in the process of being processed for the project and an administrative group for the grant was then needed. The city of Mount Ayr continued to be supportive of the project, and served as the agency receiving the grant, however, the council noted they would not be able to contribute funds to the 15 percent match needed for the project.
On March 4, 2010 Jeremy Rounds from SICOG, provided grant project updates to the Mount Ayr city council. He noted that he had been working with the committee that has been raising funds for a new aquatic center at Judge Lewis Park and that they were having trouble getting large amounts of funds raised. He noted that some bills have been presented and will need to be paid.
He recommended that engineering work beyond the bathhouse element that the Federal Emergency Management Administration grant covered be stopped until the group could come up with the money to pay for it.
The pool house building that will double as an emergency shelter should be able to move ahead if matching funds can be found.
On September 20, 2010 Jeremy Rounds with SICOG updated the city council that the pre-construction meeting for the project had been held and that work was beginning.
The substantial construction deadline for the project was December 17. The first draw down request on the FEMA grant for the aquatic center shelter house and safe room has been received and city clerk Pam Poore asked Rounds to explain the options for handling the requests. One option is for the mayor to sign the requests and send them on to FEMA so the money is received by the city before payment is made. The other option is for the city to make the payments and then be paid back by the grant funds.
Council members agreed that they would like to use the method that brings the dollars to the city before the draw down requests are made. The first costs go to Burbach Aquatics, the firm which is doing the design of the bath house which will also be a safe house that can withstand 250 mile an hour winds to provide a tornado shelter for people in Judge Lewis Park. City council members noted that the council is the go-between for the aquatic center committee, which is responsible for raising the matching funds for the project.
Wednesday, July 20, 2011 a large crowd gathered for a meeting with the Ringgold County board of supervisors to discuss the aquatic center project.
The aquatic center committee had been working on a plan for a new facility for several years. The city council did not have the bonding capacity to take on the aquatic center as a municipal project. Because the pool serves a group of people well beyond the Mount Ayr city limits, the committee met with the Ringgold County board of supervisors to explore any options for helping fund the project on a county-wide basis.
Mount Ayr city council members were encouraged to attend the public meeting Wednesday night with the supervisors.
On October 17, 2011, the council approved the construction schedule, notice to bidders and notice of public hearing for the construction of the new bath house and safe room at the swimming pool at Judge Lewis Park thanks to a FEMA grant as well as matching funds raised by the Mount Ayr Aquatic Center committee.
This was the first phase in what was hoped to be a replacement of the pool as well. The project included demolition of the previous bath house, fencing, concrete work, construction of the new bath house and site utilities among other things.
The bidding process held up the project 8 months as multiple rounds of bids exceeded the established budget.
On July 16, 2012, Phase I, the bathhouse project of the aquatic center project, finally moved forward thanks to additional fund-raising efforts and additional money allotted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The city council approved construction contracts for the new FEMA shelter and bathhouse project on September 4, 2012. Opening date was set as May 17, 2013.
Six years after the initial Aquatic Center planning and fundraising began, Phase II of the pool project stalled out. During the next two years, the city of Mount Ayr experienced leadership challenges, staff turnover, and changes in city council members.
Then in 2018, the City of Mount Ayr revived the pool planning process with the help of City Superintendent Brent Wise. At that time, an alternative plan was also starting to emerge.
Next week we’ll take a deep dive into Part II of the ongoing pool planning process that has been plagued by lack of funding, until now.
(Part 2 continues next week)