Hillsboro Council studying feasibility of building new pool

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
The process of creating a new swimming pool for Hillsboro took its most public step yet when members of the city council listened March 16 to a presentation by a representative of a national company that specializes in building municipal pools.

The city has contracted with Burbach Aquatics Inc., based in Platteville, Wis., to begin a feasibility study for a new pool in Hillsboro.

“The analysis involved in the contract we have with them is to determine the size of the pool, some suggestions where it should go, and to help us figure out what we really want,” City Administrator Steven Garrett said.

“It’s all very initial.”

Nancy Ronto, director of western operations for Burbach Aquatics, told the council Tuesday that one of the strengths of her company is that its goal is to develop pool projects that are appropriate for the needs of a specific community.

She said she eventually decided to be employed by the company after working with it to build a new pool in a city where she was living at the time.

“I decided I really wanted somebody who understood the engineering behind a good pool,” she said.

Ronto said she also appreciated the company’s commitment to have someone on site to monitor every phase of a project, from feasibility studies to the completion of construction.

“When you hire my division, mine is the face that you’re going to see all the time-whether you like it or not,” Ronto said with a smile. “I go all the way through construction with you.”

The company offers its services through the three phases of a project: evaluation, design and construction.

Specifically, that would include feasibility studies, public opinion polls, marketing and use projections, economic projection, cost estimates, concept development, complete design and engineering services, conduction of complete public bidding procedures, contractor awareness training to promote local contractor participation in public bidding, construction administration services, on-site observations, startup assistance and operation guidance with client input encouraged through all phases of the project.

Ronto displayed aerial photos of six pool projects her company had developed, including one in a community with a population of 1,800 people.

Ronto said the engineering of pools has changed drastically since 1954, when Hillsboro’s pool was built.

Several of her photos featured designs that allow for an area conducive to competitive swimming and diving while at the same time accommodating people who want more casual uses, including a “zero-depth” entrance where a person enters and exits the pool on a gradually sloping floor.

She said advances in pool technology allow for evenly heated water through inlets built into the floor rather than the sides of a pool, and for controlling chlorine use according to water depths.

Ronto said today’s pool users want more deck area for lounging away from the water, and some incorporate grass areas that allow for others forms of recreation between dips in the water.

Ronto said a pool that meets the needs of a community will be used more by residents, and could attract users who live in neighboring communities, too.

“These new vessels bring revenue in,” she said. In fact, she added, the additional traffic covers the expense of operating the pool in most cases.

Ronto said the timeline for developing a pool has taken as long as three years in some cases. Conversely, construction could start as early as this fall and be completed in time for the 2005 season, depending on the length of the design stage.

Burbach Aquatics also will review possible locations for a new pool. Because most modern pool projects require at least two acres of ground, Ronto said, a new pool could not be built at the present location in Memorial Park.

Garrett said after the meeting that although Hillsboro’s project is just in the research stage, he and the council are operating on the assumption that some kind of new pool will be built.

“There is that assumption, especially since this (present) pool is on its last legs, physically,” he said. “Functionally, it really doesn’t function as well as a newer pool would either. If we embrace those two truths, that leads us to say, ‘Yes, we have to do something.'”

The cost of a new pool will vary according to its size and accompanying amenities, Garrett said. The least expensive project Ronto referred to during her presentation cost $2 million.

“The number we have kicked around in our mind is $1.5 million,” Garrett said. “Where does that come from? I don’t know yet. We’ll have to figure out how to fund a new pool before we build it.”

Garrett said the cost of building a pool is only one consideration. The cost of maintaining it has to be determined, too.

For a new pool to work for Hillsboro, he said, it will have to be staffed differently than it currently is.

Garrett said it was too early to speculate about the location for a new facility.

“Any sort of speculation on a site would only be speculation,” he said. “But I’m convinced the present site is not an option.”

Burbach Aquatics will begin its feasibility study shortly. The study will focus not only on the needs and wants of the Hillsboro community, but also will explore the potential for drawing in patrons from surrounding communities.

Other business

The council unanimously approved the final plat for the Windover Hillsboro affordable-housing project planned for the city’s north side.

The plat was approved with two stipulations: that no lots would be sold before the city received petitions for improvements from the project developers, and that city would also receive the restrictive covenants planned for the project.

In other matters, the council:

— heard Garrett say that “all city departments did a pretty good job” during the March 7 church fire and the immediate days that followed.

“If it had been a drill, it couldn’t have gone any smoother,” he said.

Garrett praised the work of the fire department to contain the blaze to the church structure and one nearby home.

“It’s amazing that we did not have more homes going up (in flames),” he said.

Garrett also praised the work of Morgan Marler and her crew at the water-treatment plant, saying they were able produce the 1 million gallons needed to fight the fire “and never went out of compliance” with water-quality standards.

Garrett also praised the many local residents and bystanders who helped evacuate homes without getting in the way of firefighters.

“People came out of the woodwork and nobody got under foot,” he said.

Garrett expressed some disappointment with the way some television news media reported the event, choosing to portray the mindset of the community according to their preconceived notions rather than the way he had described it to them.

“The best part of our community wasn’t on TV,” Garrett said.

Don Ratzlaff, moderator of the church, publicly thanked Garrett for the way he had served as a buffer between church leaders and the television media, allowing leaders to focus on more pressing concerns.

— authorized Garrett to work with the city’s engineer, Bob Previtera of Reiss & Goodness Engineers, to explore the possibility of developing a “negotiated contract” with APAC Kansas for the work required for Phase II of the Main Street renovation project planned for this summer.

Previtera said APAC had approached him about pursuing such an arrangement. A negotiated contract would preclude the need to open the project to other bids because it would be considered an extension of the contract agreed to for the initial phase.

The advantage to the city, Previtera said, is that it could result in significant financial savings for the city because APAC’s unit prices would be at the same rate it submitted for the original contract.

— expressed no dissent about the need to upgrade the alley behind Central National Bank and the Hillsboro Senior Center so the two facilities can be more easily accessed during this summer’s construction.

Rather than working the north end of Main Street in stages, as was done during Phase I last summer, the entire street will be reworked “in one fell swoop,” Garrett said.

— heard from Garrett that the duplex project that had been planned for North Lincoln Street will “probably change in scope.”

“Those of us involved think it needs to go a little different direction than the development company does,” he said.

Garrett did not elaborate.

— discussed a request from Parkside Homes Inc. that land adjacent to the south edge of Park Village be annexed by the city.

Because some of that property lies in a flood plain, the council discussed the ramifications of annexation.

When Councilor Len Coryea asked if the city might have to build protective dikes at some point, City Attorney Dan Baldwin said no.

Baldwin suggested instead that the city develop building codes that would make it difficult for anyone to build on the property.

— heard from Megan Kilgore, executive director for the Hillsboro Management Board, that the annual city-wide garage sale is planned for May 1.

— heard from Kilgore that Hillsboro will be represented at the Kansas Sampler Festival in Newton May 1 and 2, and that up to 20 local volunteers will be needed during the weekend to manage the Hillsboro exhibit.

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