Payson's Go-It-Alone Cost Is $11-14 Million

Phased town pool and gym alternative to YMCA could handle recreation programs

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Payson could build a gym that would accommodate town recreation programs and a year-round pool that would support school swim team meets for $11-$14 million, broken into three phases, a consultant told the parks and recreation commission last week.

The consultant's report comes on the eve of a council decision on whether to enter into a partnership with the YMCA that would bring a covered, year-round pool to the community -- but which would not provide a pool big enough for regulation swim meets or a gym big enough for the town's booming league play.

After years of inconclusive discussion, the town now faces tough choices in a hard budget year. The council on Thursday will discuss a proposed lease with the YMCA of the Valley that would essentially give the private group about six acres of parkland and the existing Taylor Pool in return for fees for Payson residents as low as $35 a month and continuation of the town's summer swim program.

Commission Chairman Bruce Wilson spoke passionately in favor of the Payson plan, saying that the town needs a gym large enough to host two cross court basketball games or four volleyball games with spectators all at once -- an option the smaller, proposed YMCA gym would not offer.

"There would be such high usage, we'd have to shut people out," he said.

Parks and Recreation Director Rick Manchester said he was rushing to get the outline of the go-it-alone option in front of the council before this week's executive session on the proposed YMCA lease. He said once the council makes the "what" decision -- choosing between the YMCA and the large complex -- he can tackle the "how" questions involving cost and timing.

"If we can get to the ‘how' question, then we can make some tremendous progress." In terms of financing, he said, "I think we have a million dollars available already" from private donors.

The Phoenix-based consulting firm Versar presented plans and cost estimates for a gym and pool complex that would incorporate the existing Taylor Pool in Rumsey Park.

The plan would provide a 10,000-square-foot gym, 9,000 square feet worth of office, locker room, training room and support facilities, a covered, 12,000-square-foot, year-round recreation pool and an uncovered, 18,000-square-foot regulation sized pool with training areas.

The private citizen's group Friends of Payson Parks and Recreation paid for the study.

The pool and gym complex could be built in three phases. The first $3 million phase would provide the parking, grading and support facilities -- like the office and locker rooms. The second, $3 million phase would include the gym.

The final, $6 million phase would include both the play pool, likely to attract fee-paying residents, and the outdoor regulation-sized pool that could support recreation programs for both the town and the schools. The proposal also calls for a $300,000 solar power generating system, with a payback period of about six years.

Parks and Recreation Director Rick Manchester predicted the town could find support from private donors to pay the bulk of the construction costs.

He said towns with similar facilities -- like Gilbert -- have covered up to two-thirds of the operating costs in fees. He estimated that the operating costs for the year-round facility would total around $500,000 to $600,000 annually.

By contrast, the YMCA has proposed using town-owned land and the existing Taylor Pool to build a complex that would include a 6,500-square-foot gym, a renovation of Taylor Pool, a covered play pool and a fitness center that would likely including features like a rock-climbing wall.

The latest proposal would give the YMCA control of the facility, with the promise to maintain the existing swim programs in the summer at minimal cost to Payson residents and sliding scales for memberships, which will likely cost somewhere between $35 and $75 per month. The YMCA has proposed that the town contribute $95,000 annually, to reduce fees for Payson residents, which is about $40,000 less than the town has been paying to operate Taylor Pool.

The town now essentially faces the choice between raising more than $10 million and covering more than $500,000 in operating costs for a pool and gym complex that will accommodate school and town programs or cutting existing operating costs and giving away a chunk of land to bring to town a recreation complex that will serve individual residents rather than recreational programs.

"We need to get this before the council," said Wilson, turning to look pointedly at the two council members who attended the briefing, Mike Vogel and Richard Croy.

Manchester said "this was not intended as a rah, rah session. This was not intended as a ‘compete with the Y' session. This isn't a two-year plan. It isn't a five-year plan. It's something bigger. But we're pretty far down the path with the YMCA -- we have to run that out. I'm not looking to derail what the YMCA is doing."

The discussion then took something of a lurch, with questions about the extensive grading necessary to build such a large complex on the site of the existing Taylor Pool.

Versar architect Doug Ashline said the existing, 30-year-old pool has about five years of life left in it. Because it was built in fill, it could not be covered without running the risk of destroying it.

He said the town could actually save $1-2 million by building the complex on some other town-owned site that didn't require so much hillside grading to provide for parking and a big enough footprint for 33,000 square feet of buildings and 18,000 square feet worth of outdoor pool and deck.

The proposed site would require about moving about 20,000 cubic yards of dirt. Even though the proposed site would include the Taylor Pool, the plan calls for completely tearing it out and rebuilding it in the final phase, partly to solve existing problems and partly to provide a pool big enough to host a school swim team and officially sanctioned swim meets.

That observation sent the discussion off into an inconclusive discussion of alternative sites, which has repeatedly sidetracked the discussion with the YMCA in the past several years.

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