A plan to maintain the Barton Community College swimming pool for the foreseeable future received unanimous support Wednesday from the BCC Board of Trustees.
The proposal will require some fine tuning, as it assumes Great Bend USD 428 will begin to pay for the use of the pool, and will pay $10,000 a year for a 12-year lease. It will also require a property tax increase next year to cover recent and upcoming repairs and one year of operation costs – an estimated $190,800. How that will affect the mill levy won’t be known until valuations are set in mid-June, but the ballpark estimate was a tax increase of 0.81 mills.
The proposal would also require a smaller tax increase for subsequent years – about $43,000 a year for another 11 years.
However, factors that could reduce the local tax burden would include increased valuation – especially if oil valuations go up again – and more community support. That would include exploring ideas for generating more revenue from the pool, looking for grants and creating an endowed fund the community could contribute to.
The proposal also assumes the Golden Belt Swim Club will pay $4,000 a year to use the pool. The club has already agreed to increase its payments, but a commitment from USD 428 will require action by the school board. Superintendent Brad Reed and board member Dwight Young were both at the BCC meeting. Both expressed optimism that the board will be open to an agreement.
Young served on a study group that looked for ways to keep the pool open. He came to the meeting with his own BCC Pool Proposal. It was his own idea and not an official USD 428 proposal. Like the college proposal, it called for financial support from the community and the college, and the development of a “BCC Pool Endowment.”
Several community members attended the meeting to voice their support for maintaining the pool. BCC Board Chairman Mike Johnson summarized the situation before allowing comments from the audience. (Johnson provided the Great Bend Tribune with a copy of his statement.)
“The Barton College Trustees are very aware of the importance of the Barton pool to many individuals and groups in the area. The local swim club has been one of the most successful programs in the state. The high school team is always one of the top programs in the state, and over the last 10 years it could easily be argued that it is the most successful athletic team at Great Bend High School. Without the pool, neither of these programs can continue,” Johnson said.
“However, from the Barton College perspective, the pool no longer serves as an integral part of providing recreational or educational services to its students, and the primary reason for the pool’s existence, the Boy Scouts, no longer support an aquatics training program serving area Scouts. ...
“Over the past several weeks the trustees have received numerous comments concerning the pool. ... We understand both sides and in the end the trustees must do what they feel is in the best interest of the college, but as elected trustees we must also consider all options.
“The reason that we are considering closing the pool is strictly financial. Barton has already returned $156,000 to the state as part of this current year’s budget recissions. The Kansas Board of Regents has realigned vocational technical funding, reducing revenue another $100,000. Additional state funding cuts are also coming and the dramatic decrease in the county valuation because of substantially lower oil prices will also cause a decrease in local funding. All of this will see a likely $1.5 million decrease in income for the coming year and things do not look to improve much in the next several years. In addition, further changes in the funding model by the Kansas Board of Regents could lead to $100,000 in cuts.
“In recent months, all of Barton College’s departments have undergone a 10 percent cut. Many of Barton’s academic programs have undergone an extensive review in an effort to reduce costs. All areas of the college that do not specifically affect student outcomes have been or will be scrutinized.
“With that being said, we do understand that there is more to consider than just the financial side concerning the pool,” Johnson continued. “In recent years, Barton has grown into one of the largest community colleges in the state and one of the most respected in the country. We remain on solid financial footing and it is the trustees’ job to make sure it remains that way. ...
“The Barton trustees have spent many hours contemplating all aspects of the pool. This is a community issue, a quality of life issues for the immediate area. Again, we do understand what is at stake.”
There were comments from Andrew Murphy, a member of the study group and representative of the Golden Belt Swim Club, and from Great Bend High School Swim Coach Steve Beaumont. Coach Beaumont had also spoken earlier in the day at the Great Bend Noon Kiwanis meeting, talking about the success of the program in his 27 years as a coach – including 15 years as the head coach.
At least 10 others took time to address the board. After the board decision, there was a round of applause.