A date hasn't been determined, but officials from Worthington and Swiminc Inc. have decided to schedule another meeting to gain residents' input on how to address renovations at Worthington Pools.

CORRECTION: Because of an editing error, a statement from Worthington Schools Superintendent Trent Bowers was misconstrued as support for a joint recreation district.

A date hasn't been determined, but officials from Worthington and Swiminc Inc. have decided to schedule another meeting to gain residents' input on how to address renovations at Worthington Pools.

The Worthington Pools' outdoor pools and natatorium at 400 W. Dublin-Granville Road are in need of a lot of work -- renovations that could cost up to $24 million.

That's according to a memorandum sent to the city by Bricker & Eckler, a public-finance law firm that serves as bond counsel to both the city of Worthington and Worthington Schools.

Now the city and school district are working with Swiminc, Worthington Pools' private nonprofit operator, to determine the best way to get the work done.

The first gathering of officials from the city, school district and Swiminc was at a joint council and school board meeting Oct. 14 at the Worthington Education Center, 200 E. Wilson Bridge Road, to weigh options.

Worthington Schools owns the natatorium and the land, according to Vicki Gnezda, spokeswoman for the school district.

"Tonight is about providing information about this issue; we're not asking for any decisions to be made," Worthington City Manager Matt Greeson said Oct. 14.

Rob Schmidt, board president of Swiminc, said both the outdoor pools and the natatorium are reaching the end of their useful lifespan. He said Swiminc is not subsidized and is able to manage its own costs to support its operations, but it is unable to put money away for improvements at the pools facility.

"We are able to make ends meet as it were, but we have not been able to set money aside as an organization for where we are now -- the inevitable need to repair, replace, upgrade depending on what the community wants to do," he said.

Kurt Carmen, executive director of Swiminc, said the pools need reinvestment. He said the facility's indoor pool was constructed 43 years ago.

"It's operating on the minimum standard," he said. "Anything less and we'd go to jail; that's not a great standard."

He said the structural integrity of the pool is concerning.

"It's operating on borrowed time," he said.

Regarding the outdoor pools, he said, the north pool is leaking about 2,880 gallons of water per day. He said the leak potentially is removing subsurface soil beneath the pool.

"There's probably a big hole underneath," he said.

He said the middle pool also needs repairs and was leaking but has been able to be repaired.

The south pool, he said, is in the best shape, but it has some design flaws.

Three options

Several project options were discussed during a presentation at the meeting, including an option of improving old facilities using $1 million in state funding for Swiminc.

Schmidt said Swiminc had received the $1 million grant from the state from a previous capital bill. He said that money has to be used by June 2020 and must be tied to outdoor improvements.

A second option would be a $5 million investment in outdoor facilities. This would involve the removal of all outdoor facilities with the exception of the spray park and picnic shelter. An updated bath house, concessions, mechanical filtration, heating and chemical treatment and a new pool deck, fencing landscaping, security cameras and lights would be included.

An alternative second option would be to replace the natatorium, but "Swiminc does not have means to lead the effort," according to the presentation. No cost estimate for such a project was provided.

Worthington school board member Charlie Wilson asked about the cost of replacing the natatorium.

"The difficulty in putting a cost on that has to do with the quality construction," Carmen said.

He said pools typically cost $185 per square feet, and if the school district wanted something like Ohio State University's natatorium, for example, it would cost $250 per square feet.

A third option was to invest in the overall vision, which would include capital-improvement options for both indoor and outdoor facilities and has a total estimated cost of $24 million.

Funding scenarios

The potential renovations also bring several funding scenarios.

One involves grants or loans to Swiminc. Such an option could result in the city or district going to voters with a tax issue, according to Bricker & Eckler's memorandum.

With this option, the city could provide capital to Swiminc in the form of grants or loans to perform necessary repairs. This option effectively would maintain the status quo, with Swiminc remaining the lessor of the Worthington Pools and the city providing a one-time capital influx to Swiminc to allow it to perform needed repairs, according to the memorandum.

Because Swiminc is a private nonprofit organization, any contract to repair the facility would not be subject to the procurement requirements of public entities.

State law allows for the city to provide grants to nonprofits that are "engaged in promoting safety," according to the memorandum.

State law also allows the school district to repair and improve a wide range of facilities, including athletics facilities, according to the memorandum. Because Worthington Pools is on land owned by the school district and because the district uses the facilities for its athletics programs, the district may use its funds for the necessary improvements. However, state law doesn't allow for the district to provide grants or loans. Rather, the district would have to make any such improvements itself, according to the memorandum.

Another option involves creating a joint recreation district, through which the city and school district could create a new and separate public entity to operate and maintain the facilities.

As with the first option, this new entity could seek funding through a levy, according to the memorandum. Moreover, Worthington City Council and the school board each would have to approve legislation and designate a board of trustees for oversight.

"That district would have the authority to issue bonds (and) have a board of trustees to help fund things like the pools and request a levy," Greeson said.

He said the concept would be geographically the size of the school district and would issue a small property-tax levy that would help fund a new natatorium and renovations to the outdoor pool.

Worthington Schools Superintendent Trent Bowers said a joint recreation district might be in competition with the school district.

"If a joint recreation district was created, that district would have the ability to create a plan and ask for a tax increase from school district residents," he said. "This would compete with potential future (funding requests) the district would plan to put forward for phases 2 and 3 of the master facilities plan."

A third funding option is a joint venture. Instead of establishing a new political subdivision, this option involves creating a contractual relationship between the parties for joint ownership and control of the facilities. As such, both would share the responsibility of repairing, improving, maintaining and operating the facilities, according to the memorandum.

As with the other two options, a joint venture could result in a tax levy.

Worthington Schools' 2018 Comprehensive Annual Financial Review -- the latest available -- appears to show that the district's general-fund balance as of June 2018 was $124.8 million. Of that amount, about $67.95 million is unassigned.

Bowers said the money is for the operation of the district and other needs.

"The district has been conservative in our financial management," he said. "The money in the general fund is for the operations of the school district. It funds teachers and support staff to work with our growing student population. These funds have allowed us to add additional teachers at the elementary level, full-time school counselors, nursing and mental-health supports in all schools.

"These funds are scheduled to be spent down over time so that we can reduce the size of the next operating levy that the community will be asked to approve," he said. "If these funds are spent on Worthington Pools, they cannot be spent on operations or another priority, such as renovations to current schools. If the community determined that the pools were a greater priority than other identified needs, the board of education could access the general-fund reserves for that purpose. That's not currently something we have considered doing, however."

Both Greeson and Bowers said they think Swiminc has done an effective and efficient job of maintaining the pools.

"The discussions involve the city potentially providing a grant and loan to Swiminc to invest in the outdoor pool complex," Greeson said. "As part of this, any grant or loan would involve appropriate due diligence to verify Swiminc's managerial and financial capacity to complete the project, repay the loan and successfully manage the improved facility."

Greeson said all options are being considered for investments in the pools, depending on what is going to be done.

"Last night's (Oct. 14) discussion involved a whole range of strategies and expenditure options, from more modest to more extensive investments in Worthington Pools," he said. "All strategies are being considered at this point. More modest investments to the outdoor pools may not require tax levies. However, more extensive investments in the outdoor pools and the natatorium may require new taxes."

Greeson said Swiminc was incorporated in 1953 for the purposes of running the Worthington Pools. He said the outdoor pool was built in the 1950s, and the natatorium was constructed in the 1970s. He said Swiminc has an agreement with the district for the management and operation of the pools and contract for the sports teams' use of the facility.

According to the Worthington Pools website, Swiminc is run by a board of community members.

Greeson said other than a loan the city had made to Swiminc in the 1990s, the city has remained largely uninvolved with the pools. Swiminc charges Worthington Schools $100,000 a year for use by the district's swimming and water-polo teams, and the organization was paying back the $600,000 loan from the city in 1996 until the remaining $105,000 was forgiven in 2016.