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Our View: Don’t let new pool plan die on the vine

Published: Friday, April 19, 2013 5:30 a.m. CST

The three new members of the DeKalb Park District board will get their wish to have a say in plans to replace Hopkins Pool, but they should remember that delaying a decision does not equal solving a problem.

In this case, delaying a decision for more than a couple of months stands to make the problem worse, as costs for the project are likely to escalate if it is pushed a year or more into the future.

It seems only fair that the three new commissioners – Per Faivre, Keith Nyquist, and Don Irving – have a chance to closely examine plans to rebuild the pool within its current footprint. They are the ones who will be responsible for overseeing it in the years ahead, and will also be held accountable for the result of the project.

But it’s also important to remember that years have already been dedicated to studying the issue. The public has had the opportunity to view the plans and suggest changes, and the pool has more than 40,000 visitors in a typical summer.

An attempt to build a modern aquatic center at Hopkins Park fizzled when voters soundly rejected a tax-increase referendum in 2010. A later attempt to obtain a grant for the project also was unsuccessful.

That led to the current replacement plan, which is expected to cost $5 million and could be complete by summer 2015 by shortening the 2014 season by a few weeks. The park district can cover that cost within its current borrowing limit without raising taxes, park officials have said. Some have argued that the pool could be repaired rather than rebuilt. But the park district appears to have reached the point with the pool that many of us have reached with an old car – the cost to fix it will be almost as much as the cost to get something new. Throwing good money after bad at an old jalopy isn’t a sound investment, and throwing money at the nearly 40-year-old pool wouldn’t be, either.

Estimates from Williams Architects in 2008 on the cost to repair or replace the pool deck, existing water slides, the bathhouse, and other needed upgrades approached $5 million. In addition to aging infrastructure, the pool does not fully comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act, and will require repairs in the coming years to meet those standards.

If that amount of money must be spent, why not spend it building a new, modern, and accessible facility with amenities that could attract more people?

The existing pool was built in 1974. Just as drivers’ expectations of cars have changed considerably since 1974, so have swimmers’ expectations of pools. The existing pool is not the kind of facility a park district would choose to build today.

Much of the information about the existing pool is available for public review on the park district’s website, www.DeKalbParkDistrict.com.

The new commissioners will have some time to put their stamp on the project. But if the replacement project is to begin by 2014 and be complete by the 2015 season, the board will have to commit to move forward within a couple of months, park district Executive Director Cindy Capek said.

That’s a fair timeframe for new representatives to review and suggest changes to a plan already substantially in place.

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