LARNED — The city of Larned is “taking a risk of a catastrophic failure with the pool,” according to a conversation between Larned Mayor William Nusser and a member of the city-appointed pool advisory committee (PAC) which was shared with the Tribune Wednesday. The statement underscores the urgency behind a plan outlined by Nusser Tuesday night at an informal public meeting that included members of the PAC and representatives of the city. While city-wide water distribution issues are a priority for the city, the meeting marked the start of a concentrated effort to solve the debate over repairing or replacing the city pool.
The issue has been a hot one at city council meetings since April, when City Manager Brad Eilts asked if the council would revisit the question of the pool which had been set aside as the city grappled with how to address the problem of numerous failing water distribution pipes.
After Nusser debriefed Eilts on the efforts to date of the PAC, he learned the committee wasn’t progressing to a clear recommendation for the pool, so it was impossible to determine how much the project would cost.
In order to have something to present to the city council this summer, Nusser envisioned the formation of a Pool Task Force (PTF) whose purpose it would be to recommit to the fact-finding process and, with the help of an outside facilitator, quickly come to a determination. He enlisted the help of the Kansas Leadership Center to identify a facilitator who will lead five or six 90-minute sessions to come up with the best solution for the entire community.
“It will be an individual that is independent from the situation that has experience in addressing community concerns,” he said.
A final list of task force members was not available Tuesday night as individuals are still deciding.
“We have to kind of challenge and ask those wishing to serve on the committee to recommit to the process and put the needs of the community ahead of what they want,” he said.
Representatives of the city will not be appointed in an effort to ensure the group is truly independent. However, one current PAC member, Josh Riedel, is a Larned firefighter. He is eligible to serve as an individual because he is not directly involved with the pool. PTF members will be asked to gather facts, complete surveys and seek public input, acting as an extension of the city council.
Once a solution is determined, the city will continue to build the pool reserve fund until there is enough money for matching a community development block grant. At that point an application will be made. Nusser envisions the advisory committee then transitioning into a fundraising committee.
But if, once the process is complete, the task force is unable to come up with a clear solution, the city council will look at the various options and make the final determination, Nusser said.
Background on pool advisory committee efforts
In October 2017, the first pool advisory committee of nine volunteers submitted applications to the city. They were tasked with getting input from the community concerning the need to assess what to do about the city pool, which is leaking and in need of several repairs. As a result of their work, in 2018 the city explored funding options and entered into a consulting agreement with Larkin Aquatics at a cost of $4,750 to $6,000. The company agreed to assist the city with design and analyzing operational costs for the future. But, it was still unclear what the city should do: repair the existing pool or build new. And, if a new pool were to be built, where?
After it was determined in April that the city would need to put off work on the pool indefinitely, pool advisory committee member Erin Atteberry requested the council establish a fund where donations for the pool could be held for future efforts. Various groups had already begun fundraising efforts to show their support of the pool, and the group needed an account so they could accept the donations on behalf of the pool. It was approved. The city also established a $3 monthly pool fee for all residential water customers that will be held in reserve for future repairs and renovations of the pool. The designated fund cannot be tapped for operational expenses, which are accounted for elsewhere in the budget. The new fee is projected to generate around $57,000 a year, Nusser said. The cost of renovating or replacing the pool has been estimated to cost between $800,000 and $1.2 million dollars.
Public concerned; welcome to attend
A schedule of the meetings will be announced as soon as they are available.
Meanwhile, pool managers will continue to keep the pool operational through the end of the 2019 season.
“In the upcoming weeks staff has already planned to do a thorough review of possible repairs that can be conducted at the pool to extends it useful life,” Nusser stated in the email to the Tribune on Wednesday.
The pool closed Monday due to an electrical issue, according to the city’s Facebook page. In a communication shared with the Tribune Wednesday afternoon, the pool was experiencing issues with the pump specifically, but they had been resolved. Other concerns shared were related to the deck leveling and separating from the pool house as well as the sides of the pool. Atteberry said at the Tuesday night meeting patrons of the pool had expressed concern over the summer that water appeared cloudy at times, and that while chlorine levels were reportedly where they needed to be, the filtration system was not fully functioning. She asked if the city had addressed the need for a new filtration system in the 2020 budget. Nusser responded that the council had not received any official communication or bids, but that no requests for needed repairs had ever been turned down in the past.
Nusser praised the pool managers for their efforts with repairs that have kept the pool open.
“The pool is 90 years old,” he said. “It’s probably the oldest pool in the state, and by all rights it shouldn’t be operating, but it is. That says something about the stewardship of the pool staff through the years.”
Film crew will be at Larned pool and splash pad Friday
A second round of promotional videos for the City of Larned and Pawnee County are being collected this week. The public is invited to the Larned City Pool to be part of the action and help Larned put its best face forward. The film crew will be at the splash pad at 11 a.m., and at the pool and train at 12:30 p.m.