No troubled waters for Tigard-Tualatin Aquatic District
After three years, finances are solid, and a reserve fund is being built up
When voters in the Tigard-Tualatin School District approved a measure in May 2010 to form an aquatic district, they trusted a small group of well-intentioned people to wisely use their tax dollars to operate swimming pools at the Tigard and Tualatin high schools.
Passage of the measure was the result of a grassroots effort started after the school district's Board of Directors announced it would close the pools June 30, 2010, to save money.
Three years after the Tigard-Tualatin Aquatic District was formed, major maintenance issues have been resolved, there is a funding surplus, and the Board of Directors is looking at reducing the tax rate in the future from a maximum of 9 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation.
Looking back at the first year, board President Kathy Stallkamp said, "It was like starting a new business, setting up insurance, payroll, an accounting system, benefits, a pension plan¸ liability insurance. We had to put policies and procedures in place, such as a drug policy and how to deal with complaints."
Now, with the aquatic district's pools and equipment never in better shape, Stallkamp and aquatic director Mike Branam sat down to talk about the district's success and its future.
"The cool thing is that we ended the past fiscal year with a surplus," Stallkamp said. "Starting out three years ago, we had an approximate budget, but we are doing much better than we anticipated. Mike is great at watching costs, and we didn't sign up for PERS, which was a huge savings. And Mike was able to use retired contractors for our various projects that also saved money."
One increase in the expenses was mailing a quarterly pool schedule to every patron in the aquatic district, which has the same boundaries as the school district. Previously, it was only distributed through the schools.
"I think a combination of the publicity on the district being formed plus more people getting the schedules led to an increase in annual income of $100,000 from pool users over the previous years," Stallkamp said.
Branam added, "And the pools are open a lot more now. We don't track the number of people who use the pools - we track the money - and we have made more without raising our fees. We basically try to use the water as much as possible."
According to Stallkamp, the board has set up a fund for emergencies and long-term maintenance, "which is far ahead of our projections even though we have had emergencies."
Speaking of emergencies, Branam said that a "big one" hit a year ago in June, when all the pipes at the Tigard pool, which was constructed in 1969, had to be replaced.
"We had a big issue with scaling," he said. "We put a camera in the pipes and saw that they had deteriorated to the point that they had to be replaced. The pipes are 10 to 12 feet below the pool deck and all around it. This project would normally be a six-month shut-down, but we did it in a month."
As part of the project, the 147,000-gallon pool had to be drained twice, but that was only one of the major projects for the Tigard pool (the newer Tualatin pool was built in 1998) in part due to a lot of delayed maintenance, according to Branam.
This past spring, the "natatorium" (the room that houses the pool) was repainted for the first time since the pool opened more than 40 years ago.
"Painting the walls is easy," Branam said. "But you can't set up ladders to paint the ceiling because of the pool. They had to scaffold over the entire pool - that was the hard part."
Also, the Tigard pool facility had a badly maintained HVAC system, so everyone froze in the winter and roasted in the summer. Now the system has been adjusted to function efficiently; although the natural gas bill is now higher, the electricity bill is lower.
"We have spent tens of thousands of dollars," Stallkamp said. "The water in the showers was either hot or cold with no happy medium, so we fixed that. We replaced the carpet, the windows, all the exterior doors and the signs. And during the month-long shutdown, we did a lot of cleaning."
Branam added, "Pool materials are expensive, and we have spent money to bring the place up to where it was when it was new. Basically, a pool is a concrete tub with corrosive chemicals inside that leach the calcium out of the concrete. Our tap water is good to drink but not good for swimming pools."
One surprise for Branam was that although he has been around swimming pools for more than 40 years, he hadn't previously been involved with issues such as state inspections. "The school district handled all the state-mandated regulations, and now I realize how much they did for us," he said. "All the boilers were set up for inspections at different times, and some aren't even there anymore but the licenses were transferred. Now we're correcting the records and setting up all the boiler inspections for the same time."
For Stallkamp, getting the aquatic district up and running was pretty much a full-time job in the beginning, and she still spends about 20 hours a week on it but says that the other board members also are "pretty involved."
She added, "We thought that getting the measure passed to form the district was a lot of work. We didn't know there would be much more work afterwards, and the board initially met once a week."
But all that hard work paid off, with the staff hearing very few complaints anymore, according to Branam.
"Before, people would leave mad because they were cold, and now they tell me a soap dispenser is empty, which is great when that is the only complaint I get," he said. "We've made vast, vast improvements. We've fixed a lot of things here - I can't even remember how many. The thing about pools is that people don't see the entire infrastructure."
And the Tualatin pool isn't being ignored - in addition to painting, landscaping and HVAC repairs, the board plans to resurface the concrete within the next few years at a cost of $90,000.
Despite all the maintenance costs, the district is ahead financially, and the board has set a goal of $1 million in a long-term maintenance fund before considering reducing the tax rate. For the 2012-13 fiscal year that just ended June 30, the district took in nearly $1.1 million in revenue and spent $975,000, with $150,000 that includes excess funds from previous fiscal years going into the long-term maintenance fund.
In addition to all the volunteer time donated by the aquatic district board members, there are seven people on the administrative staff who work from 20 to 40 hours a week, plus there are approximately 30 employees on the aquatic staff that includes all the lifeguards and instructors.
The Tigard pool is located at 8680 S.W. Durham Road, Tigard 97224, and the phone number is 503-431-5455; the Tualatin pool is located at 22380 S.W. Boones Ferry Road, Tualatin 97062, and the phone number is 503-431-5655.
For more information, visit ttadpools.com.