City, school district and Swiminc Inc. officials recently met again to confer on the future of the Worthington Pools facility.
Many questions remain, but the scope of a potential renovation project continues to take shape.
City of Worthington and Worthington Schools leaders are working with Swiminc, which operates the facility at 400 W. Dublin-Granville Road, to figure out the best way to renovate the three outdoor pools and indoor-pool natatorium.
The outdoor pools were constructed in the 1950s, and the natatorium was constructed in the 1970s, according to City Manager Matt Greeson.
A community meeting was held Dec. 3 that included a presentation from Greeson, Superintendent Trent Bowers and Swiminc board member Mike Keller, who is set to become president of the board in 2020.
Meetings about the issue have been ongoing, including a joint meeting among the city, school district and Swiminc on Oct. 14.
Vicki Gnezda, a spokeswoman for the school district, said leaders have no timeline for a future meeting.
Swiminc was created in 1954 as a nonprofit organization that has received funding from both the city of Worthington and Worthington Schools. It is on the grounds of Thomas Worthington High School.
Swiminc charges Worthington Schools $125,000 a year for use by the district's swimming and water-polo teams, and the organization was paying back a $600,000 loan from the city in 1996 until the remaining $105,000 was forgiven in 2016.
Worthington Schools owns the natatorium and the land for the facility, according to Gnezda. Swiminc owns the outdoor pools, she said.
She said next steps are unclear in terms of a project timeline, she said.
"We kind of see the needs of the community and see that it exceeds what Swiminc is able to support," Keller said.
Keller said the pools master plan would cost $17 million to $22 million. It is listed in phases: first, north pool, restrooms and concession improvements; second, middle pool and south pool improvements; and third, a new indoor facility and natatorium.
He said the goal is to lower the cost and develop a more concrete plan that can be presented to the city and schools going forward.
Keller said Swiminc is focused on maintaining the outdoors pools because of the profits that come from the summer memberships.
"Our summer membership drives our finances and makes sure everything in our natatorium can be done," he said.
Keller said Swiminc is looking at what to do with the $1 million in state capital-improvements funding it secured for the outdoor pools.
"Where we sit currently, we're formalizing a plan for the outdoor pools, we're continuing to work with the school district on the planning and aesthetics of what that new natatorium could be and then we're trying to leverage the state CIP funding," he said.
Greeson said there are "no small tasks at hand with Swiminc."
Greeson said the city is exploring ways leaders could help solve the challenge of funding the renovation, but he believes that the pools "are an incredible civic asset."
"It's certainly been an important part of my family Worthington's experience," he said.
Greeson said the city has had relatively little involvement in the pools, except for a $600,000 loan that was given to Swiminc in 1996. A portion of that loan, he said, was forgiven in 2016.
He said few communities invest in as many civic assets as Worthington, citing the Peggy R. McConnell Arts Center of Worthington and the city's Community Center, but all those things require funding.
He also mentioned the investments the city is making on infrastructure and maintenance of buildings.
"Because we have these major investment obligations in existing city assets that we've been responsible for, that are core responsibilities, and also because our financial structure has been built over the years around those assets and not around the assets of operating an outdoor pool as a responsibility of the city, there's no easy button to push," he said.
"If there was an easy button to push, I think Mike (Keller) or (current Swiminc board president) Rob (Schmidt) or Trent (Bowers) or I would have already pushed it."
Greeson said if the city doesn't invest in the pools, several aspects would have to be considered.
He said the city would have to consider reducing its spending on other projects and "quality-of-life" investments in order to help fund the pools. He said increased property-tax revenue might be needed to help, as well as some combination of the two.
Greeson said leaders would look at increasing property-tax millage within the city or school district.
"City Council is considering a variety of strategies for providing financial support for the pools," he said. "One strategy is a small tax increase. If council decides to consider a tax increase, there are a variety of options, one of which is placing an issue on the ballot. No decisions have been made at this point, but city staff and council will continue to research options and listen to the community to determine the next steps moving forward.
Greeson said state law also provides the option for the city and the school district to create a joint recreation district, which would have the authority to place a tax issue on the ballot.
If the joint recreation district were approved, a tax issue would be for the school district and would "therefore (would) have more potential beneficiaries of the pools paying for the reinvestment,"Greeson said.
Greeson said city leaders are thinking about reallocating funds from other projects, including the renovation of McCord Park, which was one of the goals of the city's parks and recreation master plan.
He said they also might reduce funding allocated toward the bike and pedestrian master plan or allocate energy savings from projects in city buildings to help fund Swiminc.
He said city leaders also could use up to $500,000 from the general fund that the city has saved to put toward the pools. He said the combination of all of those options would generate about $3 million.
"That's a significant amount and would make a difference in the outdoor-pool project," he said.
He said it would probably not be enough to help with the indoor pool improvements.
Gnezda said community members who attended the Dec. 3 meeting were asked to complete a survey answering questions on how the entities should proceed with the renovations.
She said leaders are compiling the data into a report, but the comments would be made public and posted on the Worthington Schools website, worthington.k12.oh.us. She said they gathered about 100 responses from attendees.
Bowers said the responses would be shared with council and school board members, as well.
Gnezda said leaders currently do not have plans to collect more public feedback.