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Is a public pool in Olympia’s future?

Olympia High swimmers crowd the pool at The Evergreen State College in Olympia during swim practice on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015.
Olympia High swimmers crowd the pool at The Evergreen State College in Olympia during swim practice on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015. File, 2015

When it comes to the future of city parks, the number one request from residents is to buy and protect LBA Woods, a nearly 150-acre wooded area in southeast Olympia.

But community feedback also shows strong support for a public place to swim, with some saying an aquatic facility could have a positive impact on health and safety.

Olympia parks staff has compiled public comments and online voting results for the proposed 2016 Parks, Arts and Recreation Plan. The plan, which outlines the park system’s vision for the next 10 years, will go before the Olympia City Council for final approval Feb. 9.

A public hearing at Tuesday’s council meeting attracted 18 people, who commented on the plan and on the city’s goals for open space, park acquisition and wildlife habitat preservation. Other top requests from the public include building more soccer fields, creating a community art space and tearing down the vacant nine-story Capital Center Building to make room for a park on the downtown isthmus.

For some people, the passion for a public pool runs deep. In fact, swimming facilities topped the “wish list” of recreational activities in Olympia, according to a survey of residents last spring.

Olympia High School assistant swim coach Tracy Larson said a community pool could become a hub for swim lessons and water safety instruction. Such a facility would serve interests in competition, fitness, therapy and family playtime.

“Great swimming facilities elevate a community,” said Larson, who asked the council to “expedite the process of building and planning a first-class aquatic facility in Olympia.”

Henry Valz, who coaches swimming at Black Hills High School in Tumwater and at Olympia High School, said a public pool would be more useful to the community than the plan’s proposed water play features for children called “spraygrounds.”

Valz noted that the Tumwater and Olympia school districts desperately need a closer place for their swimmers to practice. These high school swimmers typically travel to the busy River Ridge High School pool in Lacey, where practices run late because of high demand for the facility.

Valz also said a community pool that’s accessible year-round would be used by hundreds of people every day.

“If you doubt that number, you’ve never met a swimmer,” Valz told the council Tuesday. “Why build two more sprayparks at the expense of what we don’t already have, which is available pool space.”

The proposed parks plan has budgeted $300,000 for a feasibility study that can determine “long-range options” for an aquatic facility. According to the parks department, a small indoor swimming pool would cost about $8 million to build and would require substantial staffing. The department suggests that a pool could be included in any future renovations at The Olympia Center.

Councilwoman Jeannine Roe said a pool would be “a great asset for our community.” She suggested that Olympia could make that possible through a partnership with other cities.

“It’s a bit of a stretch for Olympia to take on a public pool,” Roe said, “but I think it would be a wonderful community project to work toward.”

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