Visalia City Council removes funding for community center from 2-year capital improvement plan; does not consider those funds for an aquatic center


By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN

VISALIA – A proposed community center on the south side of town may have represented less than a quarter of the city’s recreation facility budget for the next two years but it accounted for the majority of the council’s focus at its last meeting. 

At its May 7 meeting, the Council skimmed over $1.8 million to develop phase 5 of the Riverway Sports Park instead concentrating their discussion on $675,000 to hire an architectural consultant for a proposed fifth community center at Cameron Street and County Center Drive. 

Parks and Recreation Director Jeannie Greenwood said the city has been working with a consultant for the past year to develop a conceptual design for a 20,000 square foot community center on three acres of land near the southwest police station. A final rendering will be presented to a committee overseeing the community center proposal in June, following an April 4 meeting where community members provided input on initial designs. Greenwood said the design will come before the council sometime this summer, but not before the council was scheduled to approve a two-year budget plan with the proposed $675,000. 

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Councilmember Greg Collins took issue with the proposed South Side Multi Generational Center saying that an aquatics complex would serve a greater need in the community. 

“We have a south side community center. It’s been in place for over 25 years and is called the Whitendale Community Center,” said Collins, referring to the recreation facility on Beech Avenue west of South Court Street. “That particular amenity already exists in this community.”

While the Council authorized $25,000 to begin the process to design a new community center, Collins said the Council did not approve similar funding for the aquatics center. The Council did allow for the formation of an aquatic center committee. Met five or six times in the last 8-9 months, the committee has come up with a design, a location, discussed the pros and cons. 

He said the designs for Riverway Sports Park originally included a pool complex which then “magically disappeared” as the project moved into construction in 2007. In 2005, Collins said a pool expert was brought in to detail the pros and cons but was ultimately sunk by the Great Recession.

“Here we are today, sort of the third try to facilitate the construction of this complex and I hope the council will see its way to giving the green light for this,” Collins said.

Collins reiterated the amount of time city programs have at existing pool facilities is dwindling because city staff must work around the schedule of high school swimming, diving and water polo practices, meets and matches. 

“There is a significant need for an aquatic complex in the community,” Collins said. “We don’t have the ability to grow our programs because we don’t have our own facilities.”

Mt. Whitney water polo and swim coach Michael Yengues said having a designated city-owned swimming complex would increase time for youth aquatics and for swim lessons, which would improve the overall safety of the community. He said the complex would have a good chance of breaking even because of Visalia’s central location between Fresno and Bakersfield to host Central Section meets for high school sports.

“To be able to host these events is an enormous opportunity, not only to bring people but also to start looking at Visalia differently,” he said.

Nellie Freeborn, Convention Sales and Marketing Manager for the Visalia Convention and Visitors Bureau, also argued in favor of an Aquatic Center. She said when Clovis hosts the CIF Section Final swim and water polo meets that Fresno County sees a three-point increase in their occupancy rate, which translates into transient occupancy taxes for the city. She said those people also eat out and shop before and after the meets which provides the city with additional increases in sales tax. 

Harold Myers, a member of the Ballot Measure Advisory Committee (BMAC) for Measure N, said the city knows the history of pools which don’t make enough money to pay for their ongoing maintenance costs. He 

“I think we should consider some other ideas besides Greg’s,” Myers said. “You’d be building a unique facility for a small number of people.”

Myers suggested building a swimming pool that would have broader appeal to those who do not compete in high school sports but would utilize a facility for swim lessons, summer fun and low-impact exercise.

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“Before you vote for a 50 meter pool, why not set up a committee,” Myers said. “I suggest the people on the Measure N committee.”

Collins said an aquatics complex would not be funded through Measure N but rather a combination of other funding sources including impact fees, state grants, donations, in-kind services, and facility naming rights. Collins said pools are similar to convention centers in that they don’t make money but can come close to breaking even.

Mayor Warren Gubler said he was not in favor of a southside community center either calling it “a waste of money.” He said the community was not asking for another community center and that the city council has never voted on whether or not the community wants that type of facility. 

“I think it’s a solution looking for a problem,” Gubler said. “I’d rather have an aquatics center than a southside multigenerational center.” 

Councilmember Phil Cox said was not in favor of either facility, but did say that community members had mentioned that were more excited about the prospect of an aquatics center.

Vice Mayor Bob Link asked if the $675,000 could be removed from the two-year capital improvement program budget. Jana Ferguson, financial analyst for the City of Visalia, said the Council could move the community center beyond the two years being approved. She said Council could also remove the item and bring it back at a future date. 

“Does this council want to spend that kind of money on a southside multigenerational facility?” Gubler asked. “At some point we actually have to say as a council do we even want this.”

Link motioned to remove the community center from the two-year budget cycle but keep it as part of the discussion for year three and four of the five-year CIP. Nelson seconded the motion. Before the vote, Collins asked if the money could be kept in the two-year budget cycle to discuss its use for either a community center or a pool.

“Whether it’s a [community center] or a pool I don’t want to push it out three years,” Collins said.

Link and Nelson reaffirmed their motion and the item was removed from the budget 3-1, with Collins voting no. Cox abstained from the vote. 

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