Should city spend millions on new pool?
By Mike Cook
Las Cruces Bulletin
The Las Cruces City Council held a marathon work session Monday, Aug. 24, as the members discussed construction of a new competitive- size community swimming pool, the city’s draft arroyo management plan and how to spend about $12 million in hold harmless gross receipts funds for economic development.
There was a presentation by City Parks and Recreation Department Director Gary Johnston on phase two of the Las Cruces Regional Aquatic Center, 1401 E. Hadley Ave. It included discussion by council members and public input about the cost of constructing a new, competition-sized pool at the aquatic center and about the current and future status of Frenger Pool.
With general agreement from the council, city staff will proceed with plans to determine the exact cost of and potential funding sources for constructing a new, 25-yard by 50-meter pool at the aquatic center.
Johnston told council members the total cost of the pool could range from as little as $4 million to more than $18 million, depending on the features that are included and whether it is an indoor or an outdoor pool. An indoor pool, he said, would require a heating, ventilation and air conditioning system. An outdoor pool might include a removable cover.
Johnston said the council could choose to build only the pool, or could add a number of amenities at the time of the pool is build or add them later in phases, including a diving tank (which Johnston said could cost $3 to $4 million), bleachers that could seat 1,200 or more spectators; enlarged restrooms, showers and locker rooms; offices; training and meeting rooms; and an expansion of the exiting parking lot at the Hadley complex.
“The most important thing is the body of water,” said Johnston. “Get the body of water and then add to it.”
Randy McFarren, president of the Las Cruces Aquatic Team, said a 25-foot by 50-meter pool would provide the “greatest flexibility” to the city. He recommended an outdoor pool in a flexible building, saying people in Las Cruces can “swim outside all year long.”
“We need a new pool,” said Councillor Ceil Levatino. “I wish we could do it in one shot,” she said. In building the pool, she said, the city needs to follow “the best plan for the least amount of money that will last the longest.”
Councillor Gil Sorg said he is in favor of the pool, and of and completing the entire project at once instead of in phases. But, he said the city also needs to address its “huge deficit in ball fields and parks.” Thousands of Las Cruces children, he said, including many on the East Mesa, don’t live close enough to a park to walk there. “That’s the reality we have here.” There are “more kids needing a park than needing to swim, if you add up all the kids in the city.”
“I love swimming, but I have a real problem saying we’ll do this and (then) we’ll get the money,” said Councillor Olga Pedroza.
The pool is a “community necessity” … “something we definitely need to have in southern New Mexico” said Mayor Ken Miyagishima.
The council again discussed how to spend about $12.6 million that will be generated from the threeeighths percent hold harmless gross receipts tax (HHGRT) put in place last July when revenue bonds are sold next month.
City Economic Development Coordinator Gary Camarano said the city’s Economic Development Committee has identified a number of major initiatives for funding, including expanding the Las Cruces Convention and Visitors Bureau, building a soundstage in Las Cruces, enhancing local building investments, creating a business incubator and making improvements at the Las Cruces airport.
Garza said expanding the convention center should be the first priority. In the four and one-half years since the convention center was built, he said, the city has lost more than $7 million in potential revenue because there is no onsite hotel and there are not enough break-out rooms.
Garza said there will be enough economic development money to fund all the proposed projects “in some form.” He said the council should conduct a work session on each proposal.
Garza said the funds for economic development should be available in October.
Arroyo management plan
City Community Development Director David Weir gave the council a report on the city’s draft arroyo management plan, which he said would “protect and actively manage the arroyos traversing the city.”
He said the city Planning and Zoning Commission voted to recommend the plan late last year and it has been presented to the council at two previous ork sessions. Weir said the plan has 11 goals and 38 implementation strategies to protect arroyos and open space and improve flood management within the city limits and update the city’s storm drain master plan.
Weir said concerns that have been expressed about the plan include additional regulation and cost and its potential impact on private property rights and private development.
Deputy state Land Commissioner Lana Riley said the state Land Office (SLO) also has concerns about the plan. “We are very supportive and concerned about watershed management not only in Doña Ana County, but throughout the state,” Riley said. However, she said, the SLO is legally required to receive true value for the use of the millions of acres of trust land it manages throughout New Mexico. The city’s arroyo management plan does not explain how the city would compensate the SLO for the hundreds of acres of state trust land that could be affected by the plan.
The city council will hold an agenda- setting meeting at 1:30 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 31 in city council chambers at Las Cruces City Hall, 700 N. Main St. The next regular meeting of the council will be at 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 8. Visit http://www.las-cruces.org/en/departments/ city-clerks-office/city-council- meetings.