After pool bids received in November came in $500,000 over budget, the McKinley Park Aquatic Center (MPAC) group announced Monday they were unable to continue.
“The last two hurdles our committee faced have proven to be insurmountable,” the Facebook post stated. “As many of you may know, once we made the decision to phase MPAC, we were able to secure $1.6 million in donations, grants and pledges. When our (already scaled) project came in well over that budget and when we started to scale (again) we realized that we were no longer delivering a product that our donors would be expecting or hoping for.”
On Tuesday, MPAC member Samantha Baird and grant-writer Jeremy Rounds met with Creston Parks and Recreation to discuss next steps.
“Since we’re unwinding the project, we’ve identified four smaller incremental things, really our top priorities when we started,” Baird explained. The four priorities are: heating the pool, renovating the bathhouse entrance, a climbing wall and lifeguard wage increases and scholarships for certification classes.
Parks and rec approved a letter to be set to donors Wednesday outlining options regarding their donation. Donors will have the opportunity to have their money refunded, but planners hope they will choose to leave their money.
“We would hope that people would do that,” parks and rec member John Kawa said. “Whatever we can do to the pool would be an improvement. It’s not what we wanted, but any kind of improvement is an improvement. I think that’s a positive sign anyway.”
While several of the grants secured by MPAC have withdrawn their money, there are others looking to stay in. One grant for $100,000 is interested in staying involved if certain steps are completed, but requires a dollar for dollar match — meaning at least $100,000 of donor money would need to stay involved for them to take advantage of the full grant.
“We’ll do everything in that step there and then proceed with the project in the way we’re going to change it,” Rounds explained. “This is all contingent on enough donors letting us keep the money to pay the engineering off as well as match anything.”
Parks and rec member Mark Huff is looking into cost estimates for heating the pool and the climbing wall. The pool already contains the plumbing infrastructure for the heating, so the improvement should be fairly simple.
As for the climbing wall, Baird explained several grants are interested in the addition. “We’ve been discussing with some of our grant people and they’re interested in staying in the mix and having their funds directed to the climbing wall,” she said.
Rounds added they have $15,000 allocated for that. One of the hurdles with the climbing wall is potentially having to relocate one of the diving boards.
While parks and rec members said that isn’t impossible, Huff said the state would likely have to come sign off on it.
Kawa is looking into options for bath house renovations to make the entrance more family friendly. Planners would like to see an option where families can walk into the pool together instead of having to split up.
The final priority focuses on attracting and retaining quality staff for the pool. “The thing about lifeguarding is, you’re right, most of the time they’re not doing much, but if they have to do something, you want to make sure they’re in it,” Baird said. “I think that demands a certain pay level for teenagers. It should at least be competitive with other summer jobs.”
Kawa agreed the city is not competitive with their wages.
“It’s really sad that we have to go to your grant for wages,” parks and rec member Jane Brown said. “That’s just not where that should have to be.”
While planners hope to focus on these four improvements, Baird said the real priority is to retain funding. “The top priority is covering costs and having some money left over to go forward,” she said.
In August 2021, Creston City Council approved use of $500,000 in franchise fees over 10 years toward pool renovations.
“These were contingent on us getting the CAT (Community Action and Tourism) grant, which we did, and then getting construction loan which we didn’t,” she said. “So that pledge is over basically. But I would offer this to you — they’ve already set that money aside for the pool. It doesn’t hurt that we request that money be redirected back to parks and rec.”
Planners said in order to bring the action item to council, they would need to have solid cost estimates in place for their priorities.
Rounds said they “went to war” to get that money nearly two years ago, but city councilwoman Kiki Scarberry said the worst council can say is no.
“It’s worth the ask at a public meeting to find out where those funds are being redirected to,” Baird said. “The idea behind it is they already earmarked it for pool renovations for MPAC. I mean, it’s a city amenity. Just because MPAC isn’t happening, doesn’t mean the pool doesn’t need $50,000 a year.”