Eastside students at a 2018 swim meet hosted at Mercer Island’s Mary Wayt Pool. Currently, this facility is one of few on the Eastside that can be used for events like this. Raechel Dawson/staff photo

Eastside students at a 2018 swim meet hosted at Mercer Island’s Mary Wayt Pool. Currently, this facility is one of few on the Eastside that can be used for events like this. Raechel Dawson/staff photo

Conversation around potential aquatic center continues at Bellevue City Council study session

Interest in the facility was recently renewed after progress was cut short about a decade ago.

The Bellevue City Council received a progress report on a new feasibility study for a proposed regional aquatic center at its Oct. 21 study session.

Interest in building a new aquatic center in the city was recently revived after a 2009 push for a facility was stymied by the financial recession. For nearly 50 years, the city has relied on the Bellevue Aquatic Center (also known as Odle Pool) for its recreational needs.

Renewed interest was sparked when King County Parks looked at how aquatic gaps could be better filled regionally on the Eastside in 2017. During that process, Claudia Balducci, a King County councilmember, garnered $2 million in funds that would be appropriated for a prospective solution when needed.

The update at the Oct. 21 study session followed a couple of gains made in the process within the last two years. In May of last year, the Bellevue City Council approved a resolution that sanctioned a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the city, Kirkland, Redmond and King County in general. The memorandum enabled the partners to continue probing how to best take a regional approach in developing aquatics facilities. In November 2018, the city partnered with ARC Architects to update the feasibility study that was conducted in 2009. The council was last updated on the current feasibility study this April.

The feasibility study looks at a potential project scale and scope, cost, operational requirements and site viability. At the April meeting, the council asked staff to look at how building a new regional facility would impact smaller, local pools and how the existing Odle Pool fit into plans.

Stakeholder feedback

Since the spring 2019 meeting, staff has reached out to stakeholders like local swim clubs, Olympics representatives, community pool personnel and others for feedback.

“Just know we’ve met with at least 37 different groups of representatives of these various different organizations to represent both users and providers… that operate some of these facilities,” said Glenn Kost, Bellevue’s parks planning manager.

Kost said he and others frequently heard from stakeholders that there is generally a lack of pool space for competitive needs, like training and meets.

“I don’t think this comes as a surprise to anybody,” he said.

He also heard general support for keeping the Odle Pool, and that local providers still want a new aquatics facility. If there were concerns about a new space, it typically revolved around how it might impact potential renters, specifically the operators of the Mary Wayt Pool in Mercer Island and the Samena Club in Bellevue. Otherwise, feedback was in favor of the amenity.

“For the most part, most of the pools that we talked to were highly supportive of the facility,” Kost said, adding that if the facility is constructed, stakeholders would pay market rate for pool time.

Options for consideration

Three facility options are being considered. Each includes a competition pool, a program pool, a leisure/recreational pool and cardio/fitness options, with each element varying in size and format. Wellness/therapy pools and a gymnasium/track/E-sport elements are included in some but not all of the option. The fate of Odle differs as well.

In option one, the facility would be about 97,000 square feet, with 370 stalls for parking and a cost of about $70 million. It would include neither a wellness/therapy pool nor the gymnasium/track/E-sport element, and would see the retainment and remodeling of the Odle Pool.

In option two, the center would take up about 128,000 square feet, at a cost of about $89 million and needing 485 stalls for parking. This option sees the increase in size of the options featured in option 1, and includes a 3,000 square feet wellness/therapy pool. It would additionally see the removal or repurposing of the Odle Pool.

The largest choice, option three, would sprawl 164,000 square feet and cost $110 million. It would need the most parking space at 620 stalls. In addition to taking up the most space for each element, it’s the only option that incorporates the gymnasium/track/e-sport feature. It would also see — like option one — the retainment and remodeling of Odle Pool.

The elements featured in each option are not final. When presented in table form during a presentation at the study session, it was characterized as a “menu of choices.”

“It’s a pick and choose option,” Kost said.

The estimated costs are in 2020 dollars, with revenues reflecting current Puget Sound marketing conditions. It is assumed the city would both build and operate the center. Not included in cost estimates are financial contributions from partners, specific site conditions or what Odle remodeling/repurposing entails. Looking at all three options, annual operating costs would result in a net subsidy of between $1.1 million and $1.6 million, with a 74-to 80-percent cost recovery rate.

Potential spaces

Four sites are being considered: A four-acre Lincoln Center space (an onerous 3.5 stories, with 250 parking stalls); a 20-acre spot in Marymoor Park (one story, 485 stalls); a 27-acre Airfield Park space (one story, 465 stalls); a stretch of land on the Bellevue College Campus (one story, 850 stalls).

The Lincoln Center would use option one, Marymoor Park and Airfield Park option two and Bellevue College option three. At the meeting, the council most favored the Bellevue College option, citing its location, potential college partnership and its compatible land use. But there was some concern about parking. If the city was to go with an aquatic center there, a parking garage would have to be installed at the cost of about $20 million.

Council reception

The council asked for more specific information about things like cost and community impact for the next update in the spring of 2020, after the final feasibility study has been conducted.

At the next meeting, the council will be giving direction on how to move forward.

Councilmember Jennifer Robertson expressed interest in seeing how feasible it might be to take a more phased approach to construction. She also wanted to know more specifically how the project would be funded, and what the financial ripple effects might be for the community.

“There’s going to be a lot of hotel stays, meals out, etc. etc.,” she said. “This is a real economic catalyst for a lot of people.”

Councilmember Janice Zahn said she’s thinking not just about how community pools will be impacted but how they might potentially play a role in the new facility.

“I’d like to make sure we really understand deeply what is the implications for these other pools,” she said, adding that she’d like a closer look at different funding models and who could be added to the prospective partner list.

Toward the end of the study session, Mayor John Chelminiak talked about the need to get the facility done, invoking its long delay.

“I think ‘Go big or go home’ is a really good slogan, but I also think ‘Get her done’ is also a pretty good slogan,” he said. “We’ve been at this for two-thirds of my career on the council, and I’ve been here for 16 years. So I think it’s really time to move forward.”

To see the full presentation, go online to the PowerPoint (https://bit.ly/2NokUrb). To see the full discussion at the Oct. 21 special session, go online to the meeting’s recording (https://bit.ly/2MWjuoT).

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