Marion city, school discuss partnership

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN BY JERRY ENGLER
USD 408 Superintendent Lee Leiker came to the Marion City Commission Monday with a plan that needs its first city approval in December for the city and school district to share the cost of an $8 million indoor-outdoor swimming pool and gymnasium complex located where the city pool now is.

Leiker said the plan, when complete, could require closure of the street west of the complex and extension into East Park.

If planning proceeds smoothly, Leiker expects an April school district bond election, groundbreaking by June, and completion for the 2007 summer season.

Mayor Martin Tice told Leiker the city commissioners could try to arrive at a decision by Dec. 12 on whether to deed the present swimming pool property to the school district to enable it to seek the 32 percent funding from the state in January that it is entitled to on the inside portion of a new structure.

The school board and the city commission would work out details on how to insure the pool and lease it back to the city if it is operational.

Responding to a question from Commissioner Jim Crofoot, Leiker said the pool most likely would be closed for the 2006 season with perhaps an outside entity, such as the Marion Country Club, to be asked to donate its pool for public use in the interim.

That would leave the city and the school district with decisions on funding the pools and what proportions eventually will be paid.

Leiker said the school board proposes accomplishing a major part of the funding by extending a bond issue that is about to be paid off by another 15 to 20 years without raising the mill levy again.

The bonds were originated to pay for the junior high addition and improvements at Marion Elementary School.

The city could partner with the school by paying off a portion of the bonds, perhaps with a monthly payment, but only on the swimming pools portion, Leiker said, perhaps $2 million.

He will have specific dollar amounts after school board meetings next week.

Leiker said he also will have to build in assurances for Florence voters that they aren’t being asked to “pay for Marion’s swimming pool.”

But, he said, the school board is looking at how to get what the schools need while maximizing the benefits to both Florence and Marion communities.

In Crofoot’s words, “It’s looking like it could be one of those win-win situations.”

Leiker said four basketball teams are practicing daily in the district-one in the high school gym, one at Marion Elementary, one in Florence, and the fourth has to come back in later in the evening after the others have finished.

Leiker said the situation isn’t good for students.

He began his proposal by showing different schemes of how a gymnasium and pools might be fitted in different angles onto the existing high school and junior high grounds.

An area would be excavated for the sunken gym where spectators would enter seating from a top walkway instead of marring the gym floor and interfering with game play by coming in from the bottom.

The gymnasium could be overlooked from a commons area. The partly buried structure could save on utility costs, reduce maintenance and fit into an area better by not being as tall, Leiker said.

The area around the top of the gym might serve a community use by providing a walking area during inclement weather, he said.

At the current swimming pool locations, both Leiker and commissioners seemed to be favoring an L-shaped configuration along the east and south portions of the lot with the north and west left open for parking.

Leiker said the facility could allow for the creation of a swimming team and for events that could bring more people to visit the city.

The indoor pool might be available for hospital and senior home therapy use, he said.

City Administrator David Mayfield noted the city could still keep the East Park tennis courts open with the new plan. He said the city and the school might have to share a full-time person to oversee both pools’ maintenance.

City Attorney Dan Baldwin said if the proposal is approved by voters next April, it will require budgeting coordination and perhaps working with temporary notes before bonding plans are in place.

Other commission business

Fire Chief Mike Regnier commended Marion Manufacturing for providing and modifying a part for the city fire truck at no charge to keep it operational until a new truck arrives.

Mayfield told commissioners they had the alternative, instead of signing each warrant for payment weekly, to sign a single appropriation warrant for everything.

Crofoot said he preferred signing each warrant to give better opportunity for questioning them individually.

Police Chief Michel Soyez said, in light of tornado warnings over the weekend, that the public needs to be aware that when tornado sirens sound it is time to take cover, not time to go outside to look, “whether it is May or November.”

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