By TOM HESSE
Sentinel Staff Writer
The Mt. Edgecumbe aquatic center project now has a location, a size and even a tentative dateline.
In approximately two and a half years, there will be a 10-lane, 50-meter pool located at the power plant site just south of the softball field adjacent to the University of Alaska Southeast building.
Brian Meissner, an architect with ECI Hyer, said the construction timetable is dependent on a number of factors, most of them financial.
“If we secure the funding, then we should be in the ground by July,” Meissner said.
The site of the pool, which was selected from four possible locations, was announced at an open-house meeting held at Mt. Edgecumbe High School Wednesday night. The power plant site was selected because it was close to campus, sat over bedrock and would have a lower operational cost than other sites because the heating and power for the pool could be tied directly into the current system, Meissner said.
The pool will be located in a National Landmark Area, which will require a few additional steps in the process but shouldn’t slow down the construction, Meissner said.
“A new building in the Landmark Area has been done before with the Coast Guard building,” Meissner said.
The location will influence the design of the building’s exterior. Meissner said the design team wants the building to match the area’s surrounding aesthetic.
“We’re not going to do some wavy, modern-looking building,” he said.
As for the size of the pool, the architects are moving forward with plans for a 50-meter length, more than twice the length of Blatchley’s 25-yard pool.
“We’ve been asked to design a 50-meter pool and that’s what we’re moving forward with,” Meissner said.
He said the project has the Coast Guard and Alaska State Troopers to thank for being able to design a pool to the size and recreation wishes of the community and Mt. Edgecumbe High.
“It’s amazing how the training needs of the troopers and Coast Guard fit so well with the needs of Mt. Edgecumbe,” Meissner said.
Without the influence of the Coast Guard and troopers, Meissner said, it would be a greater challenge to justify the size and amenities of the pool.
“It turns out that a lot of what the troopers and Coast Guard need for training take up a lot of space and are a lot of fun,” Meissner said.
Very little of the interior design has taken place to this point, but early drawings and plans for the pool include three diving boards – two 1-meter boards and a 3-meter board – a 5-meter platform, a climbing wall, basketball hoops, volleyball nets, water slide, water polo nets, log roll and climbing rope.
Because of a moveable bulkhead – which allows the pool to be divided into sections – the pool could be adjusted to a number of configurations that serve for lap-swimming, recreation and competition.
The project currently has $25 million in state funds dedicated to it, but $25 million will not deliver a 50-meter pool, the architect said. To ensure a pool of that length, the project will need to secure an extra $10 million, and that still won’t guarantee all of the facilities the public has asked for.
The project manager, Kimberly Mahoney, said that $10 million will be made up through state funding via a capital appropriations measure in the state Legislature.
A proposed small therapeutic pool, which would be a warmer, shallower pool for physical therapy, geriatric exercise and beginner swim lessons, may not presently fit within the $35 million maxi mum budget for the project. The design team said it can’t guarantee a therapeutic pool based on the current numbers, but doesn’t rule out the idea.
“Right now it looks like it may or may not fit in that $35 million budget, and that will be something that we won’t know for sure until we’re further in the design phase,” Meissner said.
Local swim coaches Robby Jarvill and Suha Tokman advocated for the therapeutic pool, saying they would like to know if sacrifices could be made elsewhere to free-up funds for it.
“I would really like to see whatever sacrifice is needed to get that therapy pool,” Tokman said.
Jarvill added that such a pool makes it easier to teach beginner swim lessons.
“It would be huge for swim lessons,” Jarvill said. “We probably teach lessons to 120 3-to-7-year olds and that warmer, shallower pool is a lot better for that.”
For spectators, Meissner suggested mezzanine seating, which would put bleachers above the locker rooms and away from the pool decks. This would save space, by going vertical instead of horizontal, while also keeping the decks clear and the swim coaches happy.
“Getting those bleachers off the pool decks would be amazing,” Jarvill said.
Detailed sketches for the pool’s interior will be completed in about two weeks, Meissner said. Many of the specifics of the pool, like whether the pool will have a tile or concrete surface, and whether it will have a chlorine or saltwater/UV system, have yet to be determined. Meissner said the water treatment will depend on the size of the pool, which may be too big for a saltwater system.
The predicted annual operating cost is estimated at $1 million a year.
That cost will also be covered by funds appropriated by the Legislature, Mahoney said.
Revenues from the pool, such as visitor use will account for only about 10 percent of the pool’s operating cost, Meissner said. That means that over the expected lifetime of the pool – 50 years – the pool will probably earn back only a seventh of the building cost, or five years’ worth of maintenance.
Two-and-a-half years is a long time to spend on the starting blocks, but when the water is ready to jump in, Sitkans can expect the pool to be open to the public for 90 minutes a day during the school year between Mt. Edgecumbe activities and other training, Meisnner said.
The next meeting on the Edgecumbe pool project will be held in the first week of November, Meissner said. Progress to date, including minutes from the public meetings and photos, can be found online at edgecumbepool.wordpress.com.
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