By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – The fate of a proposed aquatics complex again lands in the lap of the City Council after consultants Thursday reported findings from a feasibility study.
Council members heard a report from the Isaac Sports Group and JBHM Architects, which it’d hired in November to conduct the study at the urging of the Tupelo Parks and Recreation Department.
Department officials have long said the city’s current, and only, indoor pool requires major renovations. Instead of sinking money into the aging structure, they want to build a new facility with more amenities and the ability to host national events.
“If you do build a new aquatics facility, you’ll be stunned at the growth of the aquatics program,” said Duane Proell of ISG. “It has happened in every community we’ve been in.”
Consultants revealed plans for an $11.3 million indoor swimming complex located at one of two sites inside Ballard Park – either on the current volleyball courts on the west side of the park, or just west of the outdoor stage.
Three others sites also were considered: two at Veteran’s Park and one at City Park, where the current pool is located. City Park was dismissed because of its residential location, and Veteran’s Park because growth trends show Tupelo growing westward – not east, where it’s located.
But Proell and ISG President Stu Isaac said Veteran’s was a close second and also would make an excellent location.
Wherever it ends up, the 45,000-square-foot complex would serve both casual and competitive swimmers and generate $407,000 in annual revenues, plus an additional $3.2 million in local economic impact, consultants said.
Preliminary plans show a sprawling complex with one Olympic-size pool and one smaller pool for fitness or instruction classes. It also calls for spectator seating, locker rooms, rest rooms, offices, a multipurpose room, kitchen, lobby and an outdoor area for sunbathing and a splash pad.
Its total annual operating cost is estimated at $477,000, which, at 15 percent over revenue, means the city would have to float the difference.
But it’s a smaller difference than today’s rate: Tupelo’s current indoor pool costs roughly $212,000 annually to operate yet generates just $52,000 in annual revenues – a $160,000 shortfall.
“We’re just throwing money down the drain to repair the existing facility,” Joey Henderson of JBHM. “But if you did, it’d cost about $7 million to do it right … and you’d still probably have an operating deficit of $200,000.”
About 45 people attended the two-hour presentation at City Hall. Many in the audience had ties to the Tupelo swim community, including John Dees, who said he supports the new facility.
“Don’t underestimate the growth of aquatics,” Dees said.
With the preliminary data in hand, the council now must decide whether to pursue the facility. If it does, it likely will fund it through a bond issue.
Chief Financial Officer Lynn Norris has said the city can easily afford a bond issue for the new complex, but many council members have expressed concern about taking on more debt.
Ward 3 Councilman Jim Newell, who has been most outspoken against any new projects, had a conflict and could not attend the meeting.
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
– Site chosen: Ballard Park
– Size: 45,000 square feet
– Construction cost: $11.3 million
– Amenities: Large activity pool; small fitness pool; spectator seating, locker rooms, meeting space, offices, lobby, storage, rest rooms, outdoor splash pad
– Programs: Swim lessons, fitness programs, recreational activities, educational programs, competitive swimming events
– Management: Aquatics director hired by the Tupelo Parks and Recreation Department
– Annual operational costs: $447,000
– Annual revenues: $407,000
– Annual economic impact: $3.5 million
SOURCE: JBHM Architects