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Timeline announced for indoor pool project

The aquatic center would include a competition pool (pictured) as well as a leisure pool complete with splash pad, therapy pool and nets for both basketball and volleyball. ClarkNexsen rendering The aquatic center would include a competition pool (pictured) as well as a leisure pool complete with splash pad, therapy pool and nets for both basketball and volleyball. ClarkNexsen rendering

After Jackson County voters narrowly approved a Nov. 4 referendum to bring an indoor pool to Cullowhee, the lanes are expected to welcome their first swimmers by Christmas 2023. 

During a meeting Tuesday, Nov. 24, County Manager Don Adams briefed commissioners on the timeline and next steps.

In the immediate future, county staff must develop contracts with the bond attorney and with the development firm Clark Nexsen, which completed the initial design and cost estimates for the project. An initial budget must also be developed.

From there, commissioners will be asked to approve four separate items: A project ordinance or budget amendment to put funds in place for the initial contracts, a reimbursement resolution allowing the county to spend money that will later be reimbursed with bond or loan proceeds, the Clark Nexsen contract and the bond attorney contract. 

All that could be done by the end of December, but depending on how holiday-related delays factor in, January might be a more realistic timeframe, Adams said. 

Once those approvals are granted, the timeline will depend on Clark Nexsen. The firm estimates it will need three months to finalize the schematic design, three months for design development, six months to prepare construction documents, two months to bid and execute the contracts, 19 to 22 months for construction — though that process could be a month or two shorter depending on weather — and one month for closeout. In all, the project is expected to take 34 to 36 months from the time commissioners approve the contracts and put the funds in place. 

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These votes will take place after two currently seated commissioners — Ron Mau and Mickey Luker — have left the board, but the replacements voters chose in the November election — Tom Stribling and Mark Jones — have both stated their adamant support of the pool project. 

Ultimately, 51.41 percent of 20,520 voters said yes to a referendum question that asked them to allow the county to borrow $20 million for a new aquatic center — a slim majority. 

Though the question did win majority approval, the result varied greatly by precinct, with the most enthusiastic constituency located closest to the pool’s proposed location as an addition to the Cullowhee Recreation Center — 62.4 percent of 1,594 Webster voters said yes, as did 59.6 percent of 4,007 Cullowhee voters, 55.3 percent of 4,300 Sylva/Dillsboro voters and 56.6 percent of 474 Caney Fork voters. 

However, the majority of voters in all nine of the remaining precincts said no. In most of these districts the proposal netted approval somewhere between 46 and 50 percent. However, only 38.9 percent of Cashiers’ 1,516 voters and 39.7 percent of Barkers Creek’s 1,029 voters said yes to the pool. Likewise, the referendum gained approval from only 42.1 percent of Canada’s 359 voters and 42.3 percent of Glenville’s 858 voters. 

The referendum vote was the culmination of years of planning and discussion. During a survey conducted as part of a 2013 recreation master plan update, 86.4 percent of respondents said that a centrally located swimming pool is “important” or “very important,” and a follow-up survey in 2019 showed 68 percent of respondents saying that they’d support construction of a pool even if it meant raising taxes. An effort to get a referendum question on the 2018 ballot failed, but this time around voters had the chance to weigh in.

The total project is estimated at $19.95 million with $380,000 in annual operating costs. Based on current tax values, an additional 2.26 cents per $100 on the county’s existing property tax rate of $38 cents per $100 would be required to foot the bill. Of that amount, 2.22 cents per $100 would go toward the debt payment, so that portion of the tax would disappear once the 15-year loan term is complete. Jackson County just completed a property revaluation, and appraised values are expected to rise significantly next year, which could decrease the rate increase required to pay for the pool.

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