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Engineering firm hired for Aquatic Center

Monday, October 31, 2005

By Ken Ross, Managing editor

The Cherokee City Council has agreed to hire a firm to do engineering work for the aquatic center that is targeted for construction starting in the spring of 2006.

Kuehl and Payer of Storm Lake was hired to do preliminary design work on the project and has worked closely with the committee that has been raising funds for the project.

John Cook, who along with Dr. Bob Martin, co-chairs the committee, told the council on Tuesday that the firm of Kuehl and Payer has gone beyond what was asked of them in the original agreement with the city and that the committee wholeheartedly recommended that the firm be hired to do the next phase of the project.

"Whether construction occurs in 2006 or in 2007, we still need to move forward on this," Cook said.

The Storm Lake engineering firm has been involved in about a dozen aquatic parks projects. Kuehl and Payer will work with a Spencer firm on the design of the Gillette Park improvements.

Neal Kuehl of Kuehl and Payer was present to answer questions regarding the project. The precise engineering cost is not known at this time but will be available by the next city council meeting on Nov. 8, when the council will vote on official approval of a contract.

Kuehl said the engineering costs should be about the same or slightly less than the initial estimate, however, the actual construction costs will not be known until bids are received. The initial cost estimate was $2.8 million for the aquatic center and $750,000 for the Gillette Park improvements.

The size of the pool will be about 9,000 square feet, one of the larger aquatic centers recently built, although slightly smaller than the one in Spencer.

Kuehl said that the new aquatic center should have about six lifeguards on duty rotating with others working concession stand and admission duties. He said presently the pool needs only three lifeguards, four at the most, also rotating duties with others.

He said the fact that the pool will be heated could make it possible to extend the season but the biggest problem with that is not the weather but the difficulty in staffing. Most lifeguards are high school or college students.

Kuehl said that an aquatic center costs more to operate than the smaller pool it replaces but the aquatic center will attract more people paying a higher fee so that the total amount that the city subsidizes pool operation will not likely be more than at present probably a little less.

Dr. Martin echoed this prediction. He said that after visiting facilities in Spencer, Algona, Le Mars and elsewhere, that the increased revenue will more than offset increased cost. He added that there will be some savings in the mechanical operation of the aquatic center due to the deteriorated condition of the present pool.

When asked about increased insurance costs for the aquatic center, Kuehl said there will be some but not a lot of increase on insurance.

The project includes the addition of 22 parking spaces. There will also be additional parking spaces within a reasonable walking distance, using the high school parking lot when school is not in session.

Doug Woods, council member, said that swimming pools don't make a profit but it's something the city needs to do. "Our pool has outlived its usefulness,"

In a related matter, the council set a date of Nov. 8, during the next regular council meeting, for the authorization of a loan agreement and issuance not to exceed $400,000 general obligation capital loan notes for the park/aquatic center project.

The council had previously approved bonding for a $400,000 contribution toward the project as a match for a Vision Iowa grant. This is in addition to the $100,000 the city has pledged as $20,000 a year for five years from the motel/hotel tax.

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