Parks Bond Passes, What Happens Now?

November 7, 2008

With the unofficial tally indicating that West U.’s $13.8 million bond referendum passed by 251 votes, residents could see the demolition of the West U. Rec. center in a matter of months, and a covered pool ready for winter use in 2009.

Although council will not officially canvass the votes until Nov. 17, reports indicated that out of 8,423 ballots cast, 3,932 voted for the bond, 3,767 voted against, and 724 declined to vote on the issue.

City Manager Michael Ross says although the votes were close, the bond passing in shaky economic times is a good indication that the majority of West U. residents supported the proposal, which will give the city a new Rec. Center with an enclosed pool, and a new pool and building at Colonial Park.

“I think it’s important that in what news sources are calling the worst economic crisis in 70 years, a bond referendum passed on what some might consider discretionary spending on non-essential facilities,” said Ross. “And voters still approved them.”

Ross will present to council Monday, Nov. 10, a turn-key contract for hiring architectural firm PGAL for the projects. The contract includes design services and construction oversight. Ross expects council to use the Parks Board and resident representatives to work with PGAL on design choices, which will be presented to council for approval.

Ross says the city will likely move forward quickly to take advantage of a current decrease in construction costs, as well as to limit the aquatic down-time.

“All of this began four and a half years ago,” said Ross. “After 14 months of planning, task forces, multiple committees and sub-committees, boards and commissions, focus groups…all of this input, all of this information, has been digested and the voters have approved what was recommended and it is our job, council willing, to get it done now, as staff.”

The first step will be demolition of the Rec. Center, a process that will require special precautions due to the asbestos in the building. Construction on the enclosed pool could begin as soon as January or February with a late 2009 completion. Ross says the pool could be open next winter – with temporary restroom facilities – while the Rec. Center building is still under construction. The Rec. Center should take a year to 14 months to complete.

Demolition and construction of the Colonial Park Pool and facilities will not begin until the Rec. Center is complete to ensure that at no point the city is without an aquatic facility. Colonial Park construction is expected to begin in 2010, and should be complete in 2011.

The first set of bonds should be issued in 2009, which means taxpayers will not begin paying n them until 2010. City Finance Director Walter Thomas previously presented council with tax estimates for $5 million, $10 million and $15 million in bonds. If a bond election passed for $15 million, it was estimated that residents would pay an additional $84 a year through 2013, at which point the taxes will continue to decrease through 2019 as property values increase and the city retires infrastructure replacement debt.

The unofficial estimate for insurance payments for damages to the Rec. Center and Colonial Park due to Hurricane Ike is about $500,000, which will be used to offset cost of the new construction.

InstantNewsWestu Staff

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