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Update: Sammamish Officials Concerned About Misinformation on Community Center Issue

Members of the Sammamish City Council have expressed concern that some of the anti-Prop. 1 literature may confuse voters as they prepare to cast their advisory vote.

Update Nov. 6, 10:30 a.m.: Based on some of the questions in the comments below, Marcia Isenberger, director of the Sammamish Family YMCA, talked with Patch about the issue of local swim teams and pool space at a new aquatic center.

Isenberger said that the YMCA has not as yet heard from local high school swim teams about their needs or desires as far as practice time goes, but that accommodating such needs would be something the Y would be trying to balance with other community needs as the plans solidify, should the city move forward with the Community & Aquatic Center.

"If any of the (local high schools and teams) have interest we’ll look at how we can best accommodate and it would be open for anyone to throw their hat in," Isenberger said. "We plan on having time available in the pool at least to provide some swim time for the swim teams."

That said, Isenberger said there's no easy answer to the question, given the likely demand for the aquatic portion of the facility, and that swim lessons and public swim time would be priorities for the Y's program.

"Our primary efforts around aquatics are really going to be swim lessons, public swim time, and thirdly swim teams," she said.

In one possible design scenario, the facility would have two pools; one a 6-lane lap pool that would be used for swim teams, lessons, fitness classes, lap swimming; then one recreation pool with splash features, that would be a little bit warmer and more recreational, Isenberger said. The recreation pool would likely also be used at least partly for swim lessons for younger kids, but lap lanes would be necessary as well.

"We want to create the right kind of space depending on what the demand is for swim lessons; we want to meet that demand," she said, adding, "it will be a busy busy pool and aquatic center."

For high school swim teams, the model that is typical and likely would be used at a new Sammamish facility would be a per hour/per lane fee, she said.

"It’s going to be trying to find the balance," Isenberger said, and recognizing that with such a need on the plateau that it will be difficult to meet all the desires of the community. She said she anticipates that once a facility is completed and operational in a few years, that people will wonder how the community lived so long without it, but there are many more steps along the way to making that a reality.

"The good part of this is the city and the Y are in great conversation and we want to get what’s best for the community. I think the partnership makes a lot of sense. I hope people see the value it can bring. It’s always challenging, though, with the unknowns. It’s been an interesting time for us too, to hear people's concerns and their priorities," she said.

"We need to get through the vote today and see what happens, then we can start having more dialogue with groups about what their hopes are. It's going to be a giant jigsaw puzzle trying to fill all the needs," Isenberger said.

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Original story:

Most of the Sammamish City Council members have said they will abide by an advisory vote on Prop. 1, regarding a new Community and Aquatic Center for the city, but a number of individual members have expressed concern over what they call misinformation in the negative No on Prop. 1 campaign.

City Councilman Don Gerend reconfirmed to Patch today what he has said before, that he intends to follow the will of the people after next week's general election, and other council members, including Romero Valderrama, Tom Vance, and Mayor Tom Odell have echoed his sentiments.

"If it's approved 50 percent plus one, I'm going forward," Odell said, but if not, he thinks the council needs to take another look at how the proposed agreement is structured.

Valderrama told Patch he has serious concerns about residents receiving inaccurate information via campaign flyers sent out by Sensible Sammamish, a group formed by Columbia Athletic Clubs owner Cyrus Oskui to oppose the proposition.

And Councilwoman Nancy Whitten said she's concerned enough about the misinformation that if she feels, after the election, that people were misled enough to result in a negative response, that she would not consider the advisory vote valid.

"It struck me that some of them are clearly incorrect, the total perspective is that they are extremely negative by someone who has a financial interest," Whitten said, adding that the advisory vote is just that, advisory, and if she believes it's been unduly influenced by inaccurate information, she won't feel bound by it.

Valderrama said some of the central confusing issues include the possibility of new taxes and the question of whether the city could have saved millions by acepting a previous proposal from Oskui to build a facility for Columbia Athletic Clubs.

"I've always been adamant that the city not run a club. I wanted the private sector go in, and if that didn't work, a partnership with a non-profit," Valderrama said. He said the YMCA's 40-year commitment could save the city millions.

Odell also underscored the commitment by the YMCA, which would take responsibilty for the costs of the community center's operations in addition to putting in $5 million toward construction of a building it would not own, plus install the equipment for the center.

Valderrama said a partnership makes abundant sense in light of stunning failures by other cities in the area to build and operate their own facilities. "In the life cycle (of a facility like this) the costs of these pools the initial building is only 10 percent of the total," he said, citing Federal Way, which recently claimed success on the center it built and operates because it reduced its annual losses from the neighborhood of $500,000 to $300,000.

Woodinville had a similar situation, and ended up closing its club until the Y took it over and turned it around, he said.

"Woodinville praised us for the partnership we’re taking."

Though Newscastle's YMCA has been floated as an example of a city not paying such a hefty price for a facility, Valderrama said that what Sammamish residents have long been asking for is much more than just a health club.

"Where is this whole idea of a community center is coming from, this has been in the works for years at the bequest of the citizens.

"The Y has said very clearly that given these economic times they would not build a new Y in Sammamish for the next 20 years. They would never build it in this way because they build a particular type of health club," much smaller than what Sammamish is proposing so it can be used for civic activities. "The location drives up the cost, they would not build in that expensive part of land," but residents have said they would like the community center to be central, making the Commons location an ideal spot, Valderrama said.

Whitten and Valderrama say it's misleading for the no campaign to claim that the city could have saved residents millions by accepting a proposal for a private club. The proposal was for the city to build a club--at city expense--for Columbia Athletic to operate as a private business, but with no guarantees by the business that it would continue to operate it if it wasn't profitable and no contingencies for disadvantaged residents to get reduced membership fees. In exchange, the club would give the city a percentage of profits.

As far as taxes, Valderrama says that even with the cost of the proposed facility, the city will have $17 million in reserves.

Whitten said there's never any total guarantee on taxes, but the proposed agreement with the Y is a good one.

"There should not be any new taxes required, that’s why I was so positive about it. The Y’s on the hook. the Y and the city could have an out in the future, but we would have the facility, we would own it, it would be built," Whitten said.

Others have questioned whether the money would be better spent on infrastructure for the city's Town Center, but Whitten said that in her opinion that would simply benefit private developers.

"Our underlining policy in our comp plan is that growth pays for growth. The city would be responsible for existing needs (in the Town Center)," but developers should be paying for interior roads and infrastructure needed to do business.

"Our studies show it would be 20 years before we could even break even on investment on the Town Center. It's not like something you do as a revenue generator; it would be for those amenitites," Whitten said.

"I hope people just don’t get overwhelmed by the negativisim of the ads when their truthfulness has not been established. I think it’s a great facility and wish it would have a less self-serving opponent," Whitten said.

Valerie Spiegler November 04, 2012 at 01:16 AM
In response to Ms. Whitten's comments on whose responsibility it is to provide the infrastructure: The existing town center plan for the "core area" has not drawn the interest of any developers BECAUSE the plan as written will never generate the profit necessary to cover the infrastructure costs the developers would have to spend. Ms. Whitten says that it's not the City's responsibility to provide the infrastructure; "in her opinion that would simply benefit private developers". Maybe the needed infrastructure is not the City's responsibility but hasn't she stopped to ponder, even once, why developers are totally disinterested in the town center project? They are not charities looking to provide Sammamish with new infrastructure. If the City had a viable plan the developers would be fighting each other for the project. Valerie Spiegler
Christie Malchow November 04, 2012 at 01:25 AM
After having done much research myself, after receiving one of the common sense Sammamish flyers, I was able to draw my own conclusions. I never simply rely on one partiy's or sides information anyway. If Nancy Whitten goes against the will of the people she'll likely find herself ousted from City Council when voters decide to vote her out.
Heather Murphy-Raines November 04, 2012 at 06:34 AM
We need a aquatic center. Local high school kids swim outdoors in the winter or travel to Bellevue to practice.We need affordable swim lessons. We need a senior center. We need a central community center. I love how this partnership between the Y and city have worked out. As a former Columbia Athletic Club member, it just became too expensive and honestly customer service was not what it should have been. I am voting YES and I hope all the other families do as well to a partnership in a central part of our city between the city and Y. It just makes sense.
Christie Malchow November 04, 2012 at 04:41 PM
Heather - I agree, local high schools could benefit the most from this addition to our community. I was shocked to find out last weekend at ECHS open house that their swim team practices in Newport OUTSIDE in the winter!! I wonder though if a private school will be given any "rights" to utilize the facility too though.
Heather Murphy-Raines November 04, 2012 at 09:37 PM
Christie, I hear you!! Skyline also swims outside at Klahanie. It's 30 degrees and they are shivering on deck. It is ridiculous in this community that competitive swimmers are given subpar facilities and then we blow millions on ball fields. This is what I wrote on FB to a friends who voted no because of concerns/prior experience that the Y would mismanage: " Mismanaged or not, it's water in a water starved-area. It is shameful with drowning being the leading cause of accidental death among children in Washington--and with all this water surrounding us--that we do not have an affordable place for children to learn to swim. It's also shameful that being in such an affluent area, high school kids swim OUTSIDE in the snow at Klahanie in February or worse, have to drive 20 miles away to swim at 10 PM at night again outside. Blocks or not, we need more water. I think management can be addressed IF those issues arise. We also forget in such an affluent community that not all have access to Pro club, Plateau club, Pine Lake Club, or can afford expensive memberships. Teachers, firemen, and other lower income folks like the elderly need an alternative. I also love the idea of having a centralized community center. Sammamish, with all our families, needs that! :)"
Sean Smith November 05, 2012 at 12:26 AM
The city does have a viable plan...for large major developers willing to pay for the design to build a large section (at least a quadrant) of the Town Center. Smaller developers cannot swallow the costs of the design work needed for a large section of the town center merely for one or even a few parcels. Those costs involve paying for studies, design, and meetings with city staff (yes, the city charges for it's time) on aspects that don't directly relate to the aspects of developing a single lot. Because of the economic situation at large, companies are being conservative and Sammamish, I believe, represents to large a risk- bringing higher density master development (streets, shops, low-income housing, regular housing, open space, etc.) to a bedroom community that doesn't yet have any of that.
Christie Malchow November 05, 2012 at 12:39 AM
Heather - my original comment on this topic was because Nancy Whitten has in so many words (at least according to the Patch) has said she may ignore the will of the people based on her own assumptions, which in my opinion is wrong. She was voted into office to follow the will of the people in Sammamish, not to make her own assumptions about what people did or did not digest from the Common Sense Sammamish organization's mailer. I think Nancy should assume that we're all smart enough to do our own research & reading prior to marking yes or no on our ballots. Her job is to take the advisory vote, and uphold what the community asks of the council. That being said, having a pool would be a very nice perk for the community. My husband is a 3 time Olympic swimmer & he never would have learned to swim without facilities near his home (which was not in this state). We are making sure our 2 daughters learn how to swim (as a life skill), but alas there is some small hope that we might turn out another Olympian from our household...without a facility to learn, practice, etc. the question then becomes, who in this community are we denying the opportunity to learn to swim (and prevent a drowning as you point out), or maybe, become the next Olympian?
Sean Smith November 05, 2012 at 12:47 AM
I had originally thought I would vote no, just to keep the city's powder dry during uncertain economic times. But I voted for the community center. I did so because I realized that there was large community support for the center and that we elect officials to steer the ship, and both the council and the city have shown good fiscal management, so who am I to try and time the market? As councilman Valderamma said in a recent council meeting, the advisory vote will help guide the where, what, and when, not the 'if'. The Y can use the land it already owns and develop to it's usual standards. As has been said elsewhere, the Y would not build what has been designed. This vote is to show support for having the council keep the stated interests of the community at the forefront of the design of whatever community center gets built by the Y or anyone else.
Jayme November 05, 2012 at 07:58 PM
Just an FYI to everyone who has commented about the need of a competitive swimming pool in Sammamish that the high school kids can use...you will be sorely disappointed when the Y builds their pool. There has been NO agreement from the Y that they will be allowing any of the schools use the their pool. The pool will be a 25-yard, 6 lane swimming pool. The pool will be filled with swimming lessons, senior swim time, baby-parent lessons, and allowing enough time for the community to use the pool for open swim time. It is simply un realistic for anyone to believe that the 3 Sammamish high schools will be able to use the pool for their hours of practice and accommodate for the rest of their programming needs. Also, the Issaquah swim team that currently uses the Issaquah community pool has worked out a plan with the YMCA to use the proposed pool in Sammamish. The Issaquah swim team will be paying to have time set aside for their usage and also will continue to use the Issaquah pool. How does this make sense to anyone? I wish people knew the facts before they voted, you will all be sorry. I guarantee you. I can see the news a few months after the new pool opens. “Sammamish Citizens Feel Cheated Out of A “Community Center” At The Price Tag of 25 Million Dollars, The City Council Is Not Sorry”.
Christie Malchow November 05, 2012 at 08:13 PM
Jayme - this is one of my concerns as it pertains to voting on this (that along with the fact that the city CAN indeed increase our taxes). It would truly be a shame if the Y did not allow the city's 3 high schools to utilize the pool, but you are right...6 lanes & 25 YARDS is less than an ideal competitive pool, but it would at least allow for a local & indoor option (I don't know, but would bet Klahanie's pool was yards, not meters). At the end of the day, I feel like there are more questions that definitive answers at it pertains to the community center...which leaves the door open for the City to change things on the plans, raise taxes, etc. How did you find out about Issaquah high school & their agreement with the Y? Can you post a link, heresay is never good enough.
Jayme November 05, 2012 at 08:28 PM
I'm sorry, I guess its not a done deal between IST and the YMCA, as none of this is yet. Here is the link that shows they have been talking to the Y about reaching a deal if the center is built. http://www.istsockeyes.org/NewsShow.jsp?&id=206707&team=pnsist
Christie Malchow November 05, 2012 at 09:22 PM
Jayme - thanks for the link. It is interesting to see how many groups (high schools, the IST (which I note to be a USS team), the community at large, etc.) are interested in utilizing this pool. There is obviously a need for a pool with so many attempting to garner time in it. I do wonder where the Y stand on all of this, surely they can't allow the IST, ECHS, SHS, & ELHS to all utilize the pool...there would be NO time outside of school hours for anyone else...and frankly, 3 high schools & 1 USS team could never get into the same pool...there aren't enough hours in the day. All of this makes me wish the public had been given more information on how the Y was going to manage/run the pool. I realize the community center is so much more than a pool, but obviously most people are most interested in the pool part of the center. I don't think the City has given us enough information to make an informed decision which would allow them to spend $25 million in our tax dollars. I think if they can come back with a more concrete plan on how they'll do things with the YMCA & present that to the voters, then they can ask the voters to make an informed decision. But since it is on our plate to choose now, my choice seems obvious on how I must vote.
Federico Nava November 05, 2012 at 10:58 PM
Coordination and cooperation amongst all the competitive teams in the area is happening right now and has been for years. Even with the additional water time that the area gains, there will still be a shortage. You've got Skyline High School teams practicing at one Klahanie pool and when their practices are over, IST groups take over and practice at both Klahanie pools. Boehm manages time across Issaquah High School, Liberty High School and even Mt. Si High School along with IST groups and normal swim lessons and lap swim time. Eastlake High School practices in Redmond, I don't even know where Eastside Catholic practices. We don't even talk about the High School meets that go on at Boehm Pool. One six-lane SCY pool isn't going to fulfill all that need but every bit of time helps. I've got two children that swim for IST now and would much prefer a comfortable indoor venue on a snowy winter evening than a cold outdoor one but there aren't many alternatives right now.
Jayme November 06, 2012 at 02:37 AM
Why are we settling though? Why not voice that we are not happy with the current plan for a pool and demand a better plan that will service our needs and wants! A competitive swimming pool would be great!
Jeanne Gustafson November 06, 2012 at 02:50 AM
Thanks for your comments everyone. This is a really great discussion, and we have a call in to the Y regarding what the pool would mean for local high school swim teams. I will call again in the morning, because clearly this is an important question.
Federico Nava November 06, 2012 at 05:21 AM
The current plan is a scaled-back version of the original. During the research phase, there were several size choices floated from a four lane short course yard pool to an eight lane Olympic sized pool. The costs predictably increase geometrically for the pool alone. The community center has to serve multiple purposes and the pool is just one facet. This type of facility would be a boon to the area and our area swim teams are lucky that their needs were considered so earnestly.
Heather Murphy-Raines November 06, 2012 at 06:02 AM
Thanks Jeanne!! I would truly like an answer to the high school question too. As a former member of IST and a current member of a different USA Year Round club as well as a mom to a high school swimmer, I know too well how precious water is. My kids travel to Mercer Island, Seattle University, Des Moines, and Federal Way all in one week to get to practices from Sammamish. 90% of those practices are outdoors and year round. That said, just like Boehm, I certainly hope the city and Y partnership would prioritize the community aquatic time toward it's schools and it's constituents in the same way Boehm (Issaquah) or Mary Wayte (Mercer Island) pools do-- with priority to public high schools in their city, followed by private schools, then clubs based on # of taxpaying citizens' family members on team. Also correct me if I am wrong, but I thought the current plan included a leisure pool which would surely work for swim lessons, so any team practice would not displace those needed, affordable lessons? I agree that a 6-lane pool is not adequate for the needs of the community, but honestly, it is better than nothing and we should take what we can get.
Heather Murphy-Raines November 06, 2012 at 06:10 AM
Honestly, I would hope not. I am a supporter of USA swimming, but no USA team based in a separate city (Issaquah) which already has the bulk of that city's community pool time should take precedence over Sammamish high schools and taxpayers from that community. Period. That link sounds like a lot of hopeful thinking-- which I totally get--but I hope people do not vote no thinking we are just subsidizing one small subset of our area. I am sure any deals are far from done --especially if we don't even have a pool for sure. Also, many high schools in Washington offer early morning practices. This might also be an option as well. Finally, I thought there was to be a second leisure pool? Would that not be where lessons are given?
Federico Nava November 06, 2012 at 06:27 AM
If you look at the conceptual image: http://www.ci.sammamish.wa.us/departments/parksandrec/Projects/CommunityCenter.aspx I don't know if the natatorium is designed for accommodating swim lessons.
Vincent Cucinelli November 06, 2012 at 06:35 AM
How are they being considered so earnestly? If the needs of the city and their schools were really being considered wouldn't we have facts on how the pool will be divided up? Many are all for this project with the invision that it will be used to for school practices and meets and for USA clubs to provide much needed pool space. How would all those who vote yes feel if that never happened and these teams were still shut out? Voting against it would force the city council to give the voting public more information so they really know what their voting on.
Heather Murphy-Raines November 06, 2012 at 06:41 AM
I guess it would depend on the depth. I know at other pools, lesson don't typically need lanes, but more a corner of the pool. As long as the natorium was a sufficient depth, I can't see why not.
Federico Nava November 06, 2012 at 07:03 AM
I attended several of the meetings last year when the consulting firm was looking into what type of facility was desired. The firm definitely recognized the fact that a competition swimming pool was a desired part any community center plan. I don't see why voting No would be helpful. This is an advisory vote. The council want to know if the population want to build the community center. Voting Yes would signal them to start drilling down into the details. What we can afford, what the real costs will be. They won't want to start that lengthy process if the population doesn't support the building of the facility. Voting No means swimmers all over the plateau continue to swim outdoors or swim at distant facilities.
Federico Nava November 06, 2012 at 07:04 AM
I hope you're right! :)
Jeanne Gustafson November 06, 2012 at 01:29 PM
My son takes lessons at Julius Boehm pool, and the lap lanes aren't used for swim lessons for the most part, FYI. The younger kids take lessons in the shallow end.
Jeanne Gustafson November 06, 2012 at 06:39 PM
I talked with YMCA Director Marcia Isenberger this morning about some of your questions regarding swim teams using the facility, and the story is updated with her response at the very top.

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