Council Approves Aquatic Center Funding Plans

City of Alameda -- The proposed City Aquatic Center will be located on the west side of the Jean Sweeney Open Space Park.
City of Alameda -- The proposed City Aquatic Center will be located on the west side of the Jean Sweeney Open Space Park.

Council Approves Aquatic Center Funding Plans

At its Feb. 21 meeting, the City Council voted to authorize the funding plan for the proposed City Aquatic Center. The center will be located on the west side of the Jean Sweeney Open Space Park, 1100 Atlantic Ave.

The project is estimated to cost $30 million. To fund the project, city staff’s proposal stipulates that up to $15 million will come from the unassigned residual General Fund Balance and the remainder from a Certificate of Participation (COP). This financing technique provides long-term financing through a lease or installment agreement. Under financing using COPs, the city enters into a legal agreement with the Alameda Public Financing Authority (Authority) to lease specified city properties, such as the Recreation Administration Building, for an up-front, lump-sum lease payment. The city uses the lease proceeds to fund the construction of the center. The Authority, via a trustee, sells shares of the city’s lease payments to investors. The shares are called COPs.

With this plan the city will begin a debt-payment plan at an estimated 3.95 percent interest. According to the staff memorandum, with a COP at $15 million, the city will pay $1.04 million in annual General Fund debt service payments.

Current Alameda Recreation and Parks Department director Amy Wooldridge (Woolridge will be the new Alameda Assist City Manager) gave a presentation during the meeting. Woolridge said the $30 million estimated cost was a conservative amount. Wooldridge stated using the COP financing technique would be beneficial because it would require no voter approval and it would allow construction to begin sooner.

The other financing technique the City Council examined was using General Obligation bonds. This would have required placement in a future election ballot and two-thirds voter approval. However, it would have lower borrowing costs for the city.

The aquatic center will include a recreational pool, associated building with locker rooms, office space, restrooms, and community room as well as the associated parking lot and amenities to support the Center. The size of the competitive pool is still being worked out. At an earlier meeting, City Council approved conceptual design with a 30-meter competition pool for high school and club swimming and water polo competitions. However, several community members stated a 50-meter pool would better fit the community’s needs.

“Although a 50-meter pool will cost more, it also allows for more rental and cost recovery,” said Marshall Dortch, the Alameda High School water polo coach, at the meeting. “You can split up to three groups with a 50-meter pool.”

With the approval, city staff will work with a design firm on the final design, which will include pool designs and sizes, and get a more accurate estimate of the project’s final cost. The council will hear the final design review before the project’s design approval.

Included in the $30 million estimate is a plan to build a community garden at Jean Sweeney Park and the Alameda Free Library seed and tool lending library. Also, the southern fence is to be moved to the new property line.

The project received unanimous approval from the community members who spoke at the meeting and those who wrote correspondence letters to the council before the meeting.

The financing proposal was approved 4-0 with Councilmember Malia Vella abstaining.

“My concern remains regarding the city’s underutilization of pools on city property,” said Vella at the meeting. “I also have concerns about the long-term funding for the staffing and upkeep of the pool. I want to understand better the finances and the opportunities for utilization of Emma Hood and Encinal pools once this facility would come online because I think it substantially increases our overall cost relative to pool maintenance and utilization.”

Vella did say her concerns shouldn’t impact the center from moving forward.

With the funding approval, city staff will issue a Request for Proposals for a project manager and a design/build team.