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Parks district seeks feedback on community pool proposal in North Bend

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While Nick Jensen wants his two young children to learn how to swim, he — like many North Bend parents — has a hard time signing them up for lessons in town.

North Bend’s current community pool is undersized and has space for less than half of students who are looking for lessons, forcing many parents to take their kids elsewhere.

It’s one of the reasons why Jensen has supported plans to build a new pool in North Bend, seeing it as a need for a growing community. But while the self-described “public policy nerd” is familiar with expansion plans, he acknowledges he is in the minority.

“I think there hasn’t been much of a discussion in the community about it,” he said. “When I talk with people, most are not familiar with it.”

Looking to improve communication and consider what changes would garner additional support, the Si View Metropolitan Parks District has embarked on an outreach campaign, looking to gather feedback on a potential future proposal to build a new community pool.

“We’re missing something,” Si View Executive Director Travis Stombaugh said at a recent community listening session, one of two the park district is hosting alongside a community survey. “We want to figure out what that is.”

With long waitlists and programming limitations, the district’s 84-year-old pool at Si View Park is obviously in need of replacement. The pool was designed for a town of only 600 residents, less than a tenth of North Bend’s population today. Last month, over 700 students were on a waitlist for swim lessons.

The pool could be refurbished, in theory, but the cost would still be expensive and it wouldn’t address size constrains, Si View staff say.

“The facility we’re running is not sustainable, and at some point it’s going to become too inefficient to keep running,” said Mark Joselyn, a Si View board member.

Yet, getting enough voters to self-approve a property tax hike to build a new pool has been unsuccessful.

In an interview, Stombaugh acknowledged challenges communicating with voters about the project, noting some shared they were unsure of the project’s cost.

Still, he said, it doesn’t seem like they are completely off the mark. As far as what could change for the pool, Stombaugh said they are open to listen.

“Everything is on the table, really,” he said. “We want to present something for the community to use now and in the future and we’re willing to do what the community tells us.”

Si View’s boundary includes the majority of the upper Snoqualmie Valley, but excludes Snoqualmie city limits.

The park district was initially formed in response to a King County budget shortfall that threatened to close North Bend’s current pool at Si View Park. Since then, a new regional pool has been a longtime goal.

A map of the Si View Metropolitan Parks District.

In the last three years, Si View has implemented two similar ballot proposals with aims to fund a new pool. Both received support from a majority of district voters, but failed to hit the required 60% threshold needed to pass.

Si View’s most recent bond effort came last August, proposing the construction of a 26,800-square-foot aquatic facility on land next to Si View Park.

The facility would have been built in two phases, with the bond proposal funding the first phase and building a recreational pool. A second phase would have added a competitive pool.

That measure failed by less than 3%, receiving nearly identical results to a similar ballot measure from Si View that came two years earlier.

Si View staff note both votes could have been impacted by economic uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. They said there remains strong community support for aquatics improvements based on several community surveys.

“All the data we’ve ever collected says the community wants it,” Stombaugh said.

Another pool proposal could be on the ballot as soon as next fall, although the Si View’s board of directors have yet to make that determination.

Getting those last few percentage points for passage will likely require Si View staff to convince voters that the multimillion-dollar project is worth a property tax increase.

While they are sympathetic to the burdens that tax increases cause, Si View officials say there are limited alternatives for funding sources.

The most recent pool proposal was estimated at $30 million, with taxpayers on the hook for $24.7 million of that cost, equating to a roughly $120 annual property tax payment for a $600,000 home.

The project’s cost to taxpayers was reduced in its last proposal after Si View received a $4 million grant from King County Parks. They have retained that grant, but that money will disappear if the project is not approved by next year.

“It’s a big chunk of money and that’s going to go away,” Joselyn said.

As recently as 2019, Si View has approached the City of Snoqualmie to partner on a regional aquatic facility, but the city council rejected Si View’s proposal out of a desire not to increase property taxes as well as to expand their own community center on Snoqualmie Ridge.

Additional dialogue has happened since, but the two sides have not been able to find common ground.

Snoqualmie has plans for a $28 million expansion of its community center, included in its 2023-2028 Capital Improvement Plan, including the addition of a six-lane lap pool. That project is planned to be funded through a combination of sales and real estate excise tax in addition to $13.1 million in grants and state appropriations.

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