City Council’s plan to Replace Athens Community Pool Remains Uncertain

Athens City Council began discussing an ordinance that would bring a new community pool to the city Athens back in 2014. At a meeting Monday, February 8,  one thing has become clear: the waters are uneasy and tensions have risen between members of council about what the best course of action is.  City Council is no closer to a decision today then they were two years ago. It’s time to calm the waters of the  community pool issue and make a decision. Any decision.

Ordinance 0-02-16 was introduced by First Ward Representative Kent Butler, authorizing engineering services for an outdoor municipal swimming pool. The ordinance also allows Athens City Auditor, Kathy Hecht, to borrow a $500,000 bond to do so. No decision was reached Monday.

City Building Athens, Ohio
City Building located in Athens, Ohio.

Council knows they want a new pool for the community, but they don’t know much else at this juncture.

Right now, the project cost remains uncertain, the most basic elements of this project (indoor or outdoor) remain undecided, and the mayor is “praying” that the pool will open by next summer. I think it is safe to say the notion that the new pool with be open and fully functional by summer 2017 is laughable and nothing short of a pipe dream.

With this in mind, I have just one request for City Council , a request for progress. Make decisions, stick to them, and move forward with what will inevitably be a very time consuming, arduous process. Give the people of Athens a new pool, a pool without leaks and rusted pipe pieces.

The biggest doubter of the project is Third Ward Representative Michele Papai, who commented,

“I have to tell you, my confidence in the process has waned over the past year. When I see outdoor pool I wish it would say outdoor aquatic center,” Papai said. “It really doesn’t include a lot of what our community asked for. The bottom line is the fairness to the voters. It’s difficult for me to back this ordinance. The wording of this ordinance isn’t specific enough. I think we put the cart before the horse.”

Both Representative Patrick McGhee and Fourth Ward Representative Christine Fahl echoed the remarks of Papai.

McGhee said, “I see no reason to rush this, I completely agree with everything Councilwoman Papai has said.

Similarly, Councilwoman Fahl said, “I don’t have a lot of confidence. I think the planning process that’s been presented to the public has been very confusing. The plan is too amorphous. The planning committee hasn’t served us well, maybe we haven’t asked enough questions.”

Athens Mayor Steve Patterson was equally concerned about the project due to the varying financial implication of the decision to construct an outdoor pool versus an indoor pool. Specifically, the financial burden of an indoor pool likely requiring paying employees year-round as opposed to paying employees seasonal wages as is customary with an outdoor swimming pool.

For Patterson, action, whatever it may be, should be taken quickly as the current pool is rapidly draining money. The cost to repair the current pool to keep it open just one more year is at least $150,000.

“We’ve been holding back on the citizenry for something that they’re already paying taxes for,” Patterson said.

Multiple Athens residents also spoke at the meeting, voicing the concern that there is no real plan in place. They are growing increasingly frustrated by the lack of transparency on the part of City Council, saying that the numbers for the project just do not add up. They asked the council to come up with a plan and disclose it to the public where they can provide their input.

Many councilmembers mentioned the importance of planning. They said that multi-million dollar projects like this one, which is expected to cost “around” seven million dollars, needs a well thought out plan and a significant amount of time. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to have much of a plan, they are running out of time, and the project is surrounded by uncertainty. And sadly, if you missed the meeting you will be hard-pressed to find coverage. The Athens City Council Twitter (@CityofAthensOH)  provided sparse coverage. On the bright side, Ohio University’s WOUB has you covered with all the up-to-date coverage.

As a student at Ohio University, and a temporary resident of Athens, the utter confusion and disheveled nature of this pool project is concerning. What is even more concerning though is how little progress has been made week after week, confusion still persists.

At the January 19 meeting Ken Butler said, “This is solely for an outdoor pool, which may be controversial for some,” said Councilman Kent Butler, who presented the ordinance.

Similarly, on the 19th, Councilwoman Jennifer Cochran said, “The public has been led to believe that all options were on the table and now we’re essentially saying “no, this is only for an outdoor pool.”

Athens Mayor Steve Patterson was quoted at the January 19 meeting having said, “I’m pretty firm, personally, about moving this forward, getting things going,” Patterson said. “We’ve got an aging, failing pool…and I’m praying we can keep it going and be open in the summer, I really am.”

As a resident of Athens who will probably never even swim in the multi-million dollar facility I would just like to see some concrete decisions made. What I mean by that is: I don’t care if the pool is indoor or outdoor, I just want a decision to be made and stuck with. The reality is that there will be supporters and opponents regardless of what type of pool is created. You cannot please everyone no matter how hard you try.

Author: Christopher Miller

From Pittsburgh, PA. Ohio University '17. Studying Journalism & Sports Management with a Business Minor.

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