Olympia councilmembers are hesitant to take action on the proposal for the aquatic facility, which the Parks department recommended to expand the project’s feasibility study into developing a concept plan for the Olympia School District's (OSD) Harrison Avenue property.
At the Olympia City Council work session meeting on Tuesday, February 28, Parks and Arts, Recreations Department Director Paul Simmons gave an overview of the facility they would look to build, which would include replacing the Olympia Center and building a new senior center with a police substation in the westside area.
Simmons admitted there was a challenge in solidifying partnerships for the project.
"When we finished the feasibility study, and it was time for agencies to commit, we had difficulty bringing anyone back to the table,” Simmons explained. “We haven't received any formal interest from the partners other than the fact that they participated in the feasibility study."
Because of that, Simmons said, they could not move forward to the following steps: site selection, financial strategy, and governance agreement.
With no regional partners coming forward, Simmons offered an option to return to the 2016 plan, which initially included the aquatic center.
He recommended replacing the Olympia Center with the aquatic center and building a new westside Senior Center, with a potential presence of a police substation in the area.
The Parks director recounted that the Olympia Center was built because of the partnership and Senior Services for South Sound (SSSS) support.
As for the site selection, Simmons discussed a potential property swap with the OSD. He said the city does not own a property where it could build a larger campus rather than just an aquatic facility.
"But with the deal that is being worked on with the OSD to swap properties, this 27-acre property could potentially meet that need and accommodate all of those uses," said Simmons, referring to the OSD-owned Harrison Avenue parcel.
Representatives from Olympia Center, SSSS and the Olympia Police Department were also at the work session. They talked about the challenges in their current setup and the need for improved facilities.
Mayor Pro Tem Clark Gilman expressed hesitation to allow the expansion of the project's feasibility study to move forward, saying that the city has a variety of facility needs.
"When we are in a place where we are not exactly gaining each year in tax revenue, I just want us to be cautious, even though these would be great for the community," Gilman said.
Mayor Cheryl Selby and Councilmember Dani Madrone were also hesitant to give directions to the Parks director.
Madrone wanted to know the relationship of the particular parcel to the high-density housing on the west side and how it connects to the city's comprehensive plan. "Is this bringing us towards the goals we are trying to achieve with the Capitol Mall Triangle subarea, in terms of having that high-density area with a strong concentration of housing and services?"
Olympia City Manager Jay Burney to present the project back to the city council when the agreement with the OSD is done, and they will talk about how the project could be phased.
He said the city legal team is working on the agreements, and it should be ready in late spring or early summer.
Burney sees getting funding for an aquatic center through the Public Facilities District (PFD), where they get funds for the Hands-on Children's Museum.
The Olympia Center's current situation
Recreation and Facilities Director Scott River said the 50,000-square-foot activity center, built 35 years ago, is well-maintained and still in good condition.
"But it is not perfect for what we try to do or what our users are trying to do," River told the councilmembers.
The center has been hosting recreation programs for SSSS. The community uses the facility for meeting space, wedding functions, and other formal and informal events.
River said they have parking challenges down there, and the facility does not meet the technological expectations of visitors.
He added that they need a dedicated and active space for seniors and general recreation programs in the future.
According to River, the Olympia Center's multipurpose room is unusable on weekdays since that is when senior services host its daily nutrition programs. "We almost are in competition with Senior Services for space, particularly during the daytime."
In addition, River said they need current technology to meet the facility's recreational uses and proper storage for recreation and maintenance equipment.
"We need a modern design that supports the safety and security for employees and visitors while maximizing recreation opportunities," River said.
River also discussed the potential partnership with the Olympia Police Department (OPD), which is currently not in the same facility, to integrate police staffing levels to make people feel more comfortable interacting with an officer.
Senior Services Executive Director Brian Windrope echoed River's preference for a larger space to serve the senior community, which he said is growing fast.
He cited that the Olympia Center's small kitchen produces over 1,000 meals a week. "The food preparation space needed to produce that much food - both hot food and frozen meals - for Meals on Wheels in that space is just tight. "
Windrope said they would need a modern commercial kitchen, office space for staff, and meeting space for recreational and academic classes in the future.
Windrope added that the SSSS is committed to maintaining a downtown Olympia presence to feed and provide programming to seniors who live downtown.
But he added that geographic expansion is a priority to meet the needs of seniors where they live – for meals, socializing, and attending programming.
Westside OPD Substation
Sam Costello, Olympia deputy police chief, said the OPD has a facility in the westside, but they are leasing a two-story office space. He said the facility is under-suited for the current need to provide more services to west Olympia and the entire community.
Costello added that the population in West Olympia, considered a major retail hub for the city and region, continues to grow and is service intensive.
The OPD aims to have a modern facility for officer training and meeting/training space for community use. He said the current police substation lacks a suitable area for those activities.
According to Simmons, the expanded study aims:
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