My Turn: Empowered board for Juneau's pools makes sense

Around the time that city manager Kim Kiefer discussed potential closure of the Augustus Brown Pool with the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly, the Juneau Empire ran an interesting story on the relative cost and use of Juneau’s recreational facilities (Fun but not free, May 11, 2014).

 

There were a couple of important takeaways from the story, that Juneau’s recreational facilities are heavily used and that the cost of the facilities managed apart from the CBJ were lower than the ones managed by CBJ.

We supported construction of the Dimond Park Aquatic Facility, but with the objective of having two pools in Juneau; one convenient to valley residents and one to downtown residents. The threat of closure of the Augustus Brown pool took us by surprise and prompted reconsideration of how the pools are managed.

We were pleased to see that the community responded vigorously to the proposed closure of the Augustus Brown Pool by turning out to the Assembly hearing in high numbers. We were also pleased to see that the Assembly subsequently voted to place a proposed charter amendment on the Oct. 7 ballot that would give it permission to create a new empowered board (like Eaglecrest) for the two pools.

While the details of the new empowered board will not be decided by the Assembly until after the charter amendment is authorized by the voters, the concept is to appoint a group of knowledgeable, interested citizens to find the most effective way to manage both pools, reduce the operating subsidies by the city, and to respond to user and community needs in a more responsive way. The CBJ aquatics director will report directly to the empowered board just as the Eaglecrest Ski Area manager reports to the Eaglecrest Board

The Assembly will still retain oversight by its power to appoint board members and to decide each year how much to appropriate to the pools for their operation, just as they do with Eaglecrest. The difference is that the budget request will come from the empowered board that would oversee pool management and provide policy direction instead of Parks and Recreation.

Like Eaglecrest, a pool board would function much like a non-profit. It will focus on the best way to run the pools to ensure that the needs of users are met while minimizing costs and running the pools as efficiently as possible. Neither cost or efficiency objectives are being met now, but the answer is not to close pools, it’s to manage them better and differently. The pools are already not open as much as they need to be, so users cant access them when they want to. That needs to change.

If the voters approve the charter amendment, we expect that the Assembly would appoint a high quality board as they did with Eaglecrest and direct the board to look for efficiencies in pool management, maintenance and operations with the goal of reducing CBJ subsidies while maintaining the viability of both the downtown and valley pools.

We want our pools to operate effectively for a long time. CBJ’s budget issues will likely get tighter in the future. If the pools are to remain open, it will come with running the pools as effectively and efficiently as possible and meeting user needs. It’s time to try a proven method for operating our other facilities like Eaglecrest with the pools.

We encourage you to vote for Proposition 1 on Oct. 7.

• Max Mertz is the former chairman of the Dimond Park Aquatic Center Task Force; Reed Stoops is the former chairman of the Juneau Planning Commission, board member and former President of the Dimond Park Field House; and Jeff Bush is a former member of the Juneau Assembly.

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