Pool plan goes belly up

by nathan oster

A last-ditch effort to convert the swimming pool to an outdoor facility appeared to run aground Monday night when the Greybull Town Council voted 3-2 against asking the Big Horn County School No. 3 board of trustees to delay the demolition of the pool.

Citing financial reasons, Mayor Bob Graham and Councilmen Bob McGuire and Ross Jorgensen said they could not support a plan to save the pool that Councilmen Clay Collingwood and Myles Foley have been putting together in recent months, with help from Marvin Hunt.

Collingwood said he believes the pool can be saved.  Most of the problems, he said, could be resolved, simply by removing the roof.  And as an outdoor pool, the building wouldn’t need much of the equipment that’s considered deficient.

“The building is bullet proof … mostly concrete and cinder block,” he said, before offering a motion for the town to approach the school board one more time and ask them to consider halting the demolition and turning the building over to the town. To make up for the green space that would be lost by the district, Collingwood proposed that the town purchase an adjacent lot — its current owner is asking $30,000 — and turn it over to the school district in trade.

Hunt said it would cost between $20,000 and $25,000 for A.W. Hunt Construction to take down the roof of the pool — although that price would be considerably less if volunteers stepped forward to help.

To re-open, the pool would also need a new liner.  Hunt said he got a quote of $70,000 to $85,000 for a vinyl pool liner, which would come with a life expectancy of 20 years.  Hunt and Collingwood acknowledged that the current facility would also require some electrical work in order to reopen.  The deck drains would also need to be redone, Collingwood said.

For the plan to work, the town would also need to absorb monthly operation and maintenance costs, although Hunt, Foley and Collingwood all suggested that they would be considerably less than the $8,000 per month projection they’d been given to operate the pool as an indoor facility.

Collingwood admitted that it’s “late in the game,” but that he’s willing to try.

Supt. Barry Bryant, in attendance to discuss another pool matter, confirmed that, saying the district has already executed a contract with an architect for the demolition.  The current sticking point is the abatement of asbestos and removal of chemicals from the building, but Bryant said those issues should be resolved by the end of the summer.

“We’re looking at trying to do the demolition before winter,” he said.

The School Facilities Commission has had money earmarked for the demolition for several years, but set it aside until the community had an opportunity to weigh in on two proposed tax measures that would have paid for the construction, operation and maintenance of a new indoor pool.

Both measures went down to defeat in November, a point emphasized on Monday night by McGuire, the most vocal critic of Collingwood’s plan.

“The (people) have spoken,” he said. “I commend you (Clay) for your willingness and desire, but it’s done.  It’s over.”

McGuire’s comments came toward the end of his argument against supporting Collingwood’s plan.  Earlier he had cited the length of time that had been devoted to the pool issue, the cost of Collingwood’s proposal and the difficult decisions the town was forced to make elsewhere in the proposed budget for next year.

“We hear, ‘My kids are going to drown because there is no place to swim,’ and ‘There’s nothing for kids here to do,’ I think that’s generally what we’re talking about,” McGuire said. “I think, as a member of this council, my response to that is, we’re tasked with making sure toilets flush, that when residents turn on the water they get water, and that when you’re driving, you can get from Point A to Point B without falling in a pothole.”

“Those priorities,” he said, take priority over a swimming pool.  “Is it the town’s responsibility to provide a pool? It would be nice.  I’d have no problem with that.  But can we afford it?  I’m having some problems with that.

“If the school, though the state, doesn’t have the money for it, where is the town going to find the money?”

Collingwood took a far different viewpoint, saying, “As community leaders, we have a responsibility to help this town grow.  We must have water and sewer and streets and all that, but we can’t keep growing if we keep losing these community assets.

“It’s fine, if you’re close to retirement, but if you’re young and have kids, you recognized the importance of having things for those kids to do.  We can’t keep losing these assets and expect people to keep moving here — or even stay here. I believe it’s my responsibility…and I’ll take that on. That’s what I’ve been doing.”

McGuire countered that people don’t live in Greybull’s because of its amenities — they live here because they found work here.  Of greater importance, he said, is infrastructure, adding that the pool is a “luxury” item.

Collingwood told McGuire he was  underestimating the importance of community assets like the pool.  He said the town devotes time and resources to economic development, but will have a difficult time drawing any potential enterprise to town if it cannot offer anything for the children of potential employers.

“Say we were looking at a small manufacturing plant that could bring in 10 jobs,” he said. “They are going to say, ‘Yeah, I could build here, but are we going to be able to keep our employees here?’  And, ‘Do you have things to keep people in the community?’  I think the pool is one of those things.”

McGuire said something is “askew” if the criteria of a successful community is having a pool.

Hunt disagreed.  “One thing we owe our kids is a place to swim, a place to go without a coach.”  He said turning the pool into an outdoor facility is the cheapest way to provide it. “Every generation since I’ve been here has had a pool,” he said. “Now we are going to be the generation that isn’t going to have one? Everyone else has had a pool.”

Bryant said he agreed with McGuire, in the sense that his recommendation to the school board has been, and will continue to be, to proceed with the demolition.

Jorgensen said he opposed Collingwood’s plan for financial reasons, pointing out, as he had done earlier in the meeting, that the town is budgeting to take money out of its reserves in the coming fiscal year.  He said he feared the town would be getting “a white elephant” if it took over the pool.


School plan rejected

Later in the agenda, the council took up another pool-related matter, this one brought forward by Bryant on behalf of the school district.

Bryant asked the council to abandon a portion of Sixth Avenue North, directly in front of the swimming pool, so that the district could turn it into green space after the pool is removed. In that newly-created green space, the district would have put a shot and discus competition areas as well as a practice field.  Bryant added that students would have been able to cross the street there without fear of being hit by a car.

The council was unanimous in its opposition to the plan, citing among other things the way it would enlarge the “closed” GHS/GMS campus, its potential impact on businesses and semi-truck drivers.