Plans for an indoor pool for Leitchfield did a belly flop recently, as financial concerns forced the city’s Tourism Commission to dramatically switch plans.
With concerns mouting about the cost of building and running an indoor pool complex, the commission voted to have a feasibility study conducted on building a new outdoor pool complex on the south side of Leitchfield.
The Tuesday, Dec. 4, vote followed a special meeting where Murphy-Graves Architects of Lexington presented proposals of what could be built with the commission’s estimated $2.1 million budget. That budget has shrank by about $700,000 in recent months, as the Grayson County School District has had to step back from its involvement in the project.
At $2.1 million, the indoor pool’s swimming area would be roughly the same size — or possibly even a little smaller — than the city’s current outdoor pool off Wallace Avenue.
The roughly 7,000 square foot complex would have about half its under-roof space devoted to men’s and women’s locker rooms plus a family changing area, office space, a first aid/lifeguard area, and a mechanical room. The roughly 30 feet by 80 feet pool would take up the rest of the building.
Architect Tim Murphy said the design had been “cut to the bone” to match the decreased budget and the smaller building scale that budget will produce.
A $2.1 million outdoor pool complex would be larger — 8,000 to 9,000 square feet — with a much larger pool. The design Murphy showed commissioners included a lap lane area off to the side and other features, such as slides.
Besides its larger size, an outdoor pool would have another advantage, the architect said — less cost for mechanicals and upkeep. He said early estimates are an indoor pool would cost more than $100,000 to run each year, while an outdoor pool would cost less than $20,000.
However, with the scaled-back plans for an indoor pool those numbers could change, according to the pool consultant the firm and city have consulted.
“They want to look real hard, if you decide to go this way, at the operations costs,” Murphy said.
Those numbers seemed sobering to the commissioners — along with the realization that Leitchfield subsidizes about $40,000 in operating costs for its current outdoor pool.
They also questioned whether either design could be adapted in the future — enclosing the outdoor pool in a metal building, or building an addition to the indoor one. Murphy cautioned that both options would be problematic, requiring a lot of mechanical and engineering work and changes to the proposed designs.
They also discussed a possible “deadline” facing them: public promises by at least one of the new incoming city council members to try to cut or eliminate the city’s restaurant tax, which is the money the commission is counting on to fund the project and pay for the land.
Outgoing city council member Kelly Stevenson also warned that the general public is getting anxious to see some progress.
Commissioner Randy Pawly, who has supported the concept of an indoor pool to provide exercise opportunities for seniors and children, asked if some public assurances might help.
“Can we say we’re going to start saving so much a year to make a downpayment on something substantial?” he questioned. “I’d like to see us build something that’s of year-round benefit to our seniors and our children. … Pick a number and say we’re going save this for however many years until we get a downpayment.”
Chairman Mark Smith, the commission chairman, agreed that saving money could be a good way to guarantee the project’s start without “rushing into things.”
Tourism director Ilsa Johnson suggested that if the commission went the savings route that it begin paying off the land it bought for the pool complex and also begin funding other tourism activities in the community.
In 2011 the commission, with the help of the city council, bought 30.55 acres across from the existing Carroll Gibson Boulevard, off Wallace Avenue. Besides the pool, they had discussed building more ball fields, a possible amphitheater, and a cross-country path on the land.
The land purchase was funded through a bond sale, handled through Leitchfield. Revenue from the city’s restaurant tax will be used to repay those bonds, as well as helping pay for the recreational complex.
Commissioner Jeanna Carners, though, said a scaled-back indoor pool might not garner community support.
“If we come out and say we’re just going to build something 20 feet bigger and put a cover on it — that’s not gonna fly,” she said.
She said she’d like to have some community input about a possible outdoor pool rather than an indoor one.
Other commissioners said the extra attractions shown in the outdoor pool design — the party pavilion, the slides and other water features — might draw more people there since it would be something an entire family could use at the same time.
Mayor William Thomason said the commission and city were going to have to do something sooner rather than later because the current pool needs repairs and renovations.
“I’d like to go the other route,” he said, “but the operating costs of an indoor pool are just so much.”
He suggested they look at adding some type of heating system to an outdoor pool to extend the length of time it could be used each year.
And, Thomason noted, when city and tourism officials visited the indoor Beaver Dam pool this summer, they noticed crowds were lighter. With so many activities going on in the summer months, usage probably would drop in Leitchfield as well, he said.
In the end, commissioners OKd having the pool consultants do another feasibility study on an outdoor facility.
When questioned about a time frame, Murphy said if the study came back positive and the commission decided to go the outdoor pool route they “could start seeing activity” in the spring, but the reality would likely be a 2014 opening date for the complex.
The commission also approved spending $3,500 to have an asbestos and mold study done on the former Alice Theater and Alexander Hotel.
City council member Steven Elder is trying to gather community financial support to buy the buildings — reportedly on the market for about $400,000 — and renovate them for use as a community arts space.