How long can Lebanon’s pool last? That’s the million(s)-dollar question

By Sarah Brown

Lebanon Local

The board of the Lebanon Aquatic District has been discussing options for the possibility of building a new pool facility, or renovating the current one.

It’s been a discussion among the board for many years, but it’s getting to where a decision for the future needs to be made, said Mark McAllister, board member.

“Our pool is 52 years old, which is extremely old as far as pools go,” said Lorlee Engler, executive director of LAD. “We absolutely have to do something at some point.”

The current facility, built in 1967, is about 15,000 square feet, and includes six lanes for lap and recreational swimming, as well as a warm pool. Located at Lebanon High School, it is owned by the school district, and LAD leases the pool for $1 a year.

LEBANON’S POOL stands ready for a recent swimming meet. Pool and school officials say the facility is nearing the end of its functional life.
Photo by Scott Swanson

As such, the aquatic district is responsible for upkeep up the facility and has its own taxing district that helps cover the cost of operations, Engler said. From the time they open until closing, the pools are used for exercise, physical therapy, swim lessons, high school P.E., and recreation.

“We are programmed to the max right now,” she said.

Besides being at capacity with programs, a number of items need to be addressed, such as slippery decks, seismic control, and various maintenance issues that arise every year or so, Engler said. Plus, the pool has settled over time, creating a lopsidedness.

“I could just have a crack in that tank, and we’re done,” she said. “So that’s kind of where we’re at, trying to just keep Band-Aid-ing things and trying to renovate things.”

The LAD had an evaluation done on its facility last spring, and the pools received scores of 48 and 57, she said. 

“Both of them are F’s, if you think about it,” Engler said. “Does it mean the pool is gonna fall apart in the next day or two? No. But is it gonna be here in 15 years? Probably, for sure, not. Our pool is old. It’s an advanced senior citizen.”

To tackle the issue, Engler and the board members have put up for consideration several ideas in regards to either renovating or rebuilding.

On the one hand, renovating the current facility costs less and allows high schoolers access to the pool, but it still limits the amount of programs that can be offered, and the cost difference isn’t a big one.

“The problem with renovating is the cost is almost the same,” she said. “We’re gonna have to spend tens of millions of dollars to adequately renovate this existing pool, and we would have to be shut down for a minimum of 12 months.”

A concept plan shows minimal cost upgrades with a renovation.

Doing that, she’ll lose her staff and patrons.

“It will kill us to be closed for a year or longer.”

On the other hand, building a new facility could provide more programs, more lanes, and a sound structure, but it could limit access for students, and would cost more to build.

Bo Yates, superintendent of the school district, has been trying to help LAD figure out a solution, and suggested they look at options to expand at the high school, but the concepts they had drawn up were too big of a footprint, Engler said.

Keeping the pool on school district property benefits the schools, thanks to the contract they have with LAD to provide free lessons to district third-graders and for high school P.E. classes.

CONCEPTUAL site plans show possible layout ideas for expansion or replacement structures, should the facility stay at the high school property.

“We would love to stay where we’re at, as far as somewhere in the area, but we’re really probably going to have to look for land elsewhere,” Engler said.

Ideas discussed by the board include possible sites near Cheadle Lake, near the hospital, at other schools, and at upcoming parkland lots in the city. They’ve also talked about whether they might partner with COMP-Northwest and utilize students as volunteers.

The district hired BLRB Architects and Water Technology Inc. to provide ideas and cost estimates, both for renovation and for a brand new facility. On the low end, bare minimum fixes would cost about $3 million.

“If we just fix what we got and don’t really try and increase, then I’m not helping the pool for the future,” Engler said. “I might have nicer locker rooms, I might have better flooring, I might have a better functioning pool, but I’m still back to the same issue of being programmed to the max.”

On the higher end, a new facility could cost as much as $27 million.

For most, that’s the hard pill to swallow.

“I think the conversation is, ‘What will provide the people in the community the best value, and what’s the demand for having a pool?’” Yates said. 

At this point in time, no formal decisions or votes have been made at all, Engler stressed. The board is being very thoughtful about the situation and is working through all their options. Input from the community would be welcomed.

“Pools are inherently expensive. I mean, hugely expensive,” she said. “They’re expensive to operate, and they’re very expensive to build.”

THE PRICIEST OPTION: A new pool complex at a new location. This conceptual plan shows one idea.

When comparing the capital cost for the new fire department that was recently voted on, the reason a pool is more expensive than their project is because the cost practically doubles as contractors dig deeper into the ground, she noted.

“(The board) agrees that we have to do something, whether it’s a bond measure or whether it’s a stop-gap thing; we’ve got to address some of our issues,” she said. “But it’s a big task. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. It is a process, and they know that we need to do something. We love that pool, we want to see it prosper and continue, but at the same token, we’re not about to do anything rash.”

The board of LAD meets at 7 p.m. every third Monday of the month at the Lebanon pool facility. The public is welcome to attend.

“We’re the only pool in town. We’ve done a really good job of trying to upkeep and keep our facility as good as we can, but at some point we have to address its aging needs.”