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Update: Sammamish Officials Concerned About Misinformation on Community Center Issue

Members of the Sammamish City Council have expressed concern that some of the anti-Prop. 1 literature may confuse voters as they prepare to cast their advisory vote.

Update Nov. 6, 10:30 a.m.: Based on some of the questions in the comments below, Marcia Isenberger, director of the Sammamish Family YMCA, talked with Patch about the issue of local swim teams and pool space at a new aquatic center.

Isenberger said that the YMCA has not as yet heard from local high school swim teams about their needs or desires as far as practice time goes, but that accommodating such needs would be something the Y would be trying to balance with other community needs as the plans solidify, should the city move forward with the Community & Aquatic Center.

"If any of the (local high schools and teams) have interest we’ll look at how we can best accommodate and it would be open for anyone to throw their hat in," Isenberger said. "We plan on having time available in the pool at least to provide some swim time for the swim teams."

That said, Isenberger said there's no easy answer to the question, given the likely demand for the aquatic portion of the facility, and that swim lessons and public swim time would be priorities for the Y's program.

"Our primary efforts around aquatics are really going to be swim lessons, public swim time, and thirdly swim teams," she said.

In one possible design scenario, the facility would have two pools; one a 6-lane lap pool that would be used for swim teams, lessons, fitness classes, lap swimming; then one recreation pool with splash features, that would be a little bit warmer and more recreational, Isenberger said. The recreation pool would likely also be used at least partly for swim lessons for younger kids, but lap lanes would be necessary as well.

"We want to create the right kind of space depending on what the demand is for swim lessons; we want to meet that demand," she said, adding, "it will be a busy busy pool and aquatic center."

For high school swim teams, the model that is typical and likely would be used at a new Sammamish facility would be a per hour/per lane fee, she said.

"It’s going to be trying to find the balance," Isenberger said, and recognizing that with such a need on the plateau that it will be difficult to meet all the desires of the community. She said she anticipates that once a facility is completed and operational in a few years, that people will wonder how the community lived so long without it, but there are many more steps along the way to making that a reality.

"The good part of this is the city and the Y are in great conversation and we want to get what’s best for the community. I think the partnership makes a lot of sense. I hope people see the value it can bring. It’s always challenging, though, with the unknowns. It’s been an interesting time for us too, to hear people's concerns and their priorities," she said.

"We need to get through the vote today and see what happens, then we can start having more dialogue with groups about what their hopes are. It's going to be a giant jigsaw puzzle trying to fill all the needs," Isenberger said.

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Original story:

Most of the Sammamish City Council members have said they will abide by an advisory vote on Prop. 1, regarding a new Community and Aquatic Center for the city, but a number of individual members have expressed concern over what they call misinformation in the negative No on Prop. 1 campaign.

City Councilman Don Gerend reconfirmed to Patch today what he has said before, that he intends to follow the will of the people after next week's general election, and other council members, including Romero Valderrama, Tom Vance, and Mayor Tom Odell have echoed his sentiments.

"If it's approved 50 percent plus one, I'm going forward," Odell said, but if not, he thinks the council needs to take another look at how the proposed agreement is structured.

Valderrama told Patch he has serious concerns about residents receiving inaccurate information via campaign flyers sent out by Sensible Sammamish, a group formed by Columbia Athletic Clubs owner Cyrus Oskui to oppose the proposition.

And Councilwoman Nancy Whitten said she's concerned enough about the misinformation that if she feels, after the election, that people were misled enough to result in a negative response, that she would not consider the advisory vote valid.

"It struck me that some of them are clearly incorrect, the total perspective is that they are extremely negative by someone who has a financial interest," Whitten said, adding that the advisory vote is just that, advisory, and if she believes it's been unduly influenced by inaccurate information, she won't feel bound by it.

Valderrama said some of the central confusing issues include the possibility of new taxes and the question of whether the city could have saved millions by acepting a previous proposal from Oskui to build a facility for Columbia Athletic Clubs.

"I've always been adamant that the city not run a club. I wanted the private sector go in, and if that didn't work, a partnership with a non-profit," Valderrama said. He said the YMCA's 40-year commitment could save the city millions.

Odell also underscored the commitment by the YMCA, which would take responsibilty for the costs of the community center's operations in addition to putting in $5 million toward construction of a building it would not own, plus install the equipment for the center.

Valderrama said a partnership makes abundant sense in light of stunning failures by other cities in the area to build and operate their own facilities. "In the life cycle (of a facility like this) the costs of these pools the initial building is only 10 percent of the total," he said, citing Federal Way, which recently claimed success on the center it built and operates because it reduced its annual losses from the neighborhood of $500,000 to $300,000.

Woodinville had a similar situation, and ended up closing its club until the Y took it over and turned it around, he said.

"Woodinville praised us for the partnership we’re taking."

Though Newscastle's YMCA has been floated as an example of a city not paying such a hefty price for a facility, Valderrama said that what Sammamish residents have long been asking for is much more than just a health club.

"Where is this whole idea of a community center is coming from, this has been in the works for years at the bequest of the citizens.

"The Y has said very clearly that given these economic times they would not build a new Y in Sammamish for the next 20 years. They would never build it in this way because they build a particular type of health club," much smaller than what Sammamish is proposing so it can be used for civic activities. "The location drives up the cost, they would not build in that expensive part of land," but residents have said they would like the community center to be central, making the Commons location an ideal spot, Valderrama said.

Whitten and Valderrama say it's misleading for the no campaign to claim that the city could have saved residents millions by accepting a proposal for a private club. The proposal was for the city to build a club--at city expense--for Columbia Athletic to operate as a private business, but with no guarantees by the business that it would continue to operate it if it wasn't profitable and no contingencies for disadvantaged residents to get reduced membership fees. In exchange, the club would give the city a percentage of profits.

As far as taxes, Valderrama says that even with the cost of the proposed facility, the city will have $17 million in reserves.

Whitten said there's never any total guarantee on taxes, but the proposed agreement with the Y is a good one.

"There should not be any new taxes required, that’s why I was so positive about it. The Y’s on the hook. the Y and the city could have an out in the future, but we would have the facility, we would own it, it would be built," Whitten said.

Others have questioned whether the money would be better spent on infrastructure for the city's Town Center, but Whitten said that in her opinion that would simply benefit private developers.

"Our underlining policy in our comp plan is that growth pays for growth. The city would be responsible for existing needs (in the Town Center)," but developers should be paying for interior roads and infrastructure needed to do business.

"Our studies show it would be 20 years before we could even break even on investment on the Town Center. It's not like something you do as a revenue generator; it would be for those amenitites," Whitten said.

"I hope people just don’t get overwhelmed by the negativisim of the ads when their truthfulness has not been established. I think it’s a great facility and wish it would have a less self-serving opponent," Whitten said.

Heather Murphy-Raines November 06, 2012 at 06:41 AM
I guess it would depend on the depth. I know at other pools, lesson don't typically need lanes, but more a corner of the pool. As long as the natorium was a sufficient depth, I can't see why not.
Federico Nava November 06, 2012 at 07:03 AM
I attended several of the meetings last year when the consulting firm was looking into what type of facility was desired. The firm definitely recognized the fact that a competition swimming pool was a desired part any community center plan. I don't see why voting No would be helpful. This is an advisory vote. The council want to know if the population want to build the community center. Voting Yes would signal them to start drilling down into the details. What we can afford, what the real costs will be. They won't want to start that lengthy process if the population doesn't support the building of the facility. Voting No means swimmers all over the plateau continue to swim outdoors or swim at distant facilities.
Federico Nava November 06, 2012 at 07:04 AM
I hope you're right! :)
Jeanne Gustafson November 06, 2012 at 01:29 PM
My son takes lessons at Julius Boehm pool, and the lap lanes aren't used for swim lessons for the most part, FYI. The younger kids take lessons in the shallow end.
Jeanne Gustafson November 06, 2012 at 06:39 PM
I talked with YMCA Director Marcia Isenberger this morning about some of your questions regarding swim teams using the facility, and the story is updated with her response at the very top.

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