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Proposed aquatic center upgrades invite talk of floating bond package


A consultant’s suggestion to sink more than $5 million into improvements at the Maynard Aquatic Center has left Burlington’s elected leaders contemplating a bond package in order to bundle this project with some of the other high-dollar ventures that the city has in the works.

The prospective use of general revenue bonds, which would require a nod from Burlington’s voters, would not be a first for the residents of the county’s largest municipality. The city’s voters readily approved just such a proposal in 2007 in order to raise funds for a multi-million-dollar slate of road repairs and improvements. They also previously signed off on bond packages to build the Kernodle Senior Center as well as a sewer outfall that has permitted much of Burlington’s westward expansion.

Yet, for the past 15 years, the city has eschewed the use of revenue bonds in favor of cash from its financial reserves, bank loans or, in some cases, the proceeds of state and federal grants to fund a variety of capital projects. From time to time, the council has bandied about the idea of a bond package to finance other, more ambitious endeavors. So far, however, they city has managed to make do with other sources of funds that don’t demand the approval of the local electorate.

Some members of the council nevertheless seemed to regain their appetite for another bond issue this week when a consultant in the city’s employ presented the results of a structural assessment of the Maynard Aquatic Center.

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During a regularly-scheduled monthly work session, Matthew McNeely of Moseley Architects unveiled a raft of recommendations for the 24-year-old city facility, which is located near the grounds of Burlington’s City Park.

McNeely’s suggestions to the council ranged from urgent repairs with a combined price tag of $462,922 to a mélange of short- and long-term proposals that would cost the city another $1.9 million. But the centerpiece of McNeely’s report was a recommendation to replace the aquatic center’s retractable top – a project that could set the city back some $5,114,909.

In his report to the council, McNeely insisted that there will come a time sooner rather than later when the city will have little choice but to dispense with the existing stainless steel enclosure, which was added to the aquatic center in 2007.

McNeely said that this structure’s dwindling life expectancy is due, in part, to the city’s choice of building materials when it installed the enclosure to replace a much cheaper “bubble” that had previously covered the pool in the winter. He acknowledged that the use of stainless steel for this structure has been problematic given the center’s corrosive humidity, which has already necessitated the pool’s closure for one round of major repairs to the enclosure.

“Based on the number of years that have passed, that’s something that has the potential to reoccur,” the consultant added. “We’re not really making a recommendation that you continue to replace the components with like components. Ultimately, we make the recommendation that you replace it with a different kind of structure.”

Somewhat counterintuitively, McNeely recommended a wood structure to replace the center’s metal enclosure. He insisted that, with a protective coat of epoxy, a timber framework would prove even more durable than stainless steel – and cheaper for the city to maintain.

“Another reason to consider replacing it is to create a new aesthetic for the facility,” he added. “A large wood structure would be much more aesthetically pleasing in our opinion, and it would also have a much lower maintenance cost…It’s a very appropriate material for a pool in that kind of environment.”

McNeely’s suggestion triggered a range of responses from the council. It also dredged up some old memories for Harold Owen, the city’s mayor pro tem, who served as the city’s recreation director when the aquatic center was built and its city manager when the current enclosure replaced the pool’s bubble.

Owen recalled that the pool wasn’t originally designed to be an indoor facility and could conceivably revert to its original, alfresco setup if the council finds it prohibitively expensive to replace the current enclosure. Owen also pointed out that the Maynard Aquatic Center is merely a few pool lengths away from another indoor pool that the local YMCA operates near the main entrance to Burlington’s city park.

“You’re probably looking at $10 to $12 million to have two pools that are a good par five from each other,” the city’s mayor pro tem declared, “and that doesn’t seem to make financial sense.”

But the consultant’s proposal appeared to hold water with Burlington’s mayor Jim Butler, who argued that the cost could be within the city’s means if “bundled together” with other projects, such as a $1 million plan to replace the lights of City Park and the construction of a new two-story structure to replace the old Moorefield Florist building next to Burlington’s Paramount Theater.

“If we really go that whole route, we should go with the more comprehensive package,” the mayor told the rest of the council. “This is the sort of thing that would be to the benefit of everybody in the community.”

“It feels like a bond issue,” councilman Bob Ward went on to concur.

“Yes, it does,” Butler agreed.

If the city does float a bond package, it may need to do so sooner rather than later in order to keep the enclosure’s cost in line with the consultant’s estimates, which are calculated to be good for a limited time.

During his presentation, McNeely also proposed a potential schedule for the enclosure’s replacement, which assumed a period of six months before the city could even begin the design phase of the project. McNeely projected that it would take another 13 months to design the enclosure, along with other short-term improvements he proposed in his report, and an additional 12 months-plus to build the new structure – for a total timetable of 33 months before the new, wooden dome would be ready for visitors.

Read the newspaper’s editorial views on the possibility of a bond referendum:


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