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Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Bellingham swimmers adamant that the city keep its pool

By Garrett Rahn

The Bellingham City Council meeting on Oct. 21 saw about ten citizens speaking in opposition of the proposition by the YMCA to relocate to the Civic Athletic Complex and Arne Hanna Aquatic Center.

Neither the proposal nor anything pertaining to it were on the docket for the council meeting, but many citizens vocalized their concerns during the public comment period. Public comment opened after a 2020 revenue projection proposed a 1% property tax levy, an emergency interim zoning ordinance addressing temporary weather shelters’ exemption from regular review processes, and a resolution urging voters to vote “no” on I-976 in this upcoming general election.

Many of the citizens who spoke were members of the Master Swimmers Club, who swim at the Arne Hanna pool. The issues brought forward included overcrowding, maintenance and safety, accessibility for students and the handicapped and a price increase. Over time, these issues may edge out lower income families.

The main point of contention was the issue of space. The aquatic center has eight swimming lanes and the YMCA currently has four. According to the representatives of the swimming community, this is not enough.

“You have to actually go to the pool and see it rather than just hear people talking,” said Jof Abshire, a Master Swimmer and coach.

Abshire and the other Master Swimmers urged the council to look into constructing more lanes rather than follow through with a plan that would condense the two existing facilities into one.

The Arne Hanna Aquatic Center brings in around $500,000 in revenue each year, but relies on over $1 million in tax subsidies, according to an FAQ sheet from Vanessa Blackburn, communications director for the City of Bellingham.

“I recognize it’s not a money maker, but I think that we all recognize that community parks and roads are not money makers, but they’re an essential part of having a community,” said Corey Chaplin, Master Swimmer and 30-year Bellingham resident.

If the city agrees to enact the proposal, the YMCA will wholly take over operations of the aquatic center’s facility, which concerns these citizens. Control of the public pool by a private organization could lead to decreased maintenance, safety and access by all.

Council member Lilliquist said he had met with representatives from the Master Swimmers Club, the school district, city staff members, the YMCA and special-needs swimmers to hear their concerns. He plans to have a follow-up meeting next week.

According to the FAQ, “One or more public hearings will be held prior to final approval of any agreed upon plan.” No action has been taken yet, but more about the proposal from both the public and the government is expected.

The council approved an ordinance establishing an Immigration Advisory Board, among other items during the council’s committee of the whole minutes.

The board would “review and evaluate policies regarding compliance with Engrossed Second Substitute Senate Bill 5497,” as well as work closely with the city and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement providing data and making recommendations for policy related to immigration, according to agenda bill 22430.

The next scheduled meeting is on Nov. 4.


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