Elk Grove News

It’s thumbs up for aquatic center in Elk Grove; thumbs down for water park

Elk Grove leaders voted this week to build a competitive swimming venue in this sports-mad city where not a single school has a pool and residents complain that children have too few opportunities to swim.

The City Council approved plans Wednesday evening for a nearly $17 million competitive aquatic center on 30 acres at Civic Center Drive near Big Horn Drive. The project will go out for bid in 2015 and could be completed as early as 2016, city staff members said.

The center – a projected home for high school, college and club teams – would include a swimming pool, a dive pool and diving tower, and bleacher seating for 1,000 spectators. The site is anticipated to attract 36,000 visitors annually, according to city staff projections.

Elk Grove will fund the project, said assistant city manager Rebecca Craig, but Vice Mayor Jim Cooper blasted Elk Grove Unified School District from the dais for not having done more to provide aquatic facilities for the city’s youths. Approximately 62,000 students attend Elk Grove Unified schools, and most live in the city.

“This is really about our kids. Go to any new school that’s been built in the past 15 to 20 years in this region, and they all have pools,” Cooper said at the Wednesday meeting. “If you are residents of Elk Grove, you should be really upset at your school district for not building pools. Shame on them, and hopefully you’ll go to their meetings and tell them that.”

Swim-team members and other students in Elk Grove Unified use community pools at the Barbara Wackford Center, Elk Grove Regional Park, a park adjacent to James Rutter Middle School and the private Sunshine Swim & Fitness Center.

“It’s been an issue for years,” said Jeanette Amavisca, a longtime school board member.

Amavisca said the district has a potential spot for a pool at Pleasant Grove High School, but “there is no money.”

“They are expensive to put in. Expensive to maintain,” Amavisca said. “You have all the liability.”

District officials acknowledged in a statement Thursday that “cities and recreation districts build pools for the public, and in many cases, the school districts are users of those pools,” but said school districts do not receive funding to build pools or money for ongoing operation and maintenance costs.

“We appreciate our mutually beneficial community partnerships that have successfully accommodated our watersports teams,” the statement read.

Cooper had a receptive audience Wednesday evening. Elk Grove’s City Council chambers was filled to standing room with competitive swimmers and divers, their families and coaches who packed the room to say a competition-quality facility is long overdue and a missed economic opportunity for the city.

Thousands compete in youth baseball, football, soccer and other sports in parks, on fields and courts across Elk Grove. About 7,000 boys and girls play on more than 415 teams in the Elk Grove Youth Soccer League. Another 2,000 or more are signed up for under-12 Cal Ripken Baseball; more than 1,000 each signed up for softball and football; and thousands more swim, play water polo, basketball, lacrosse and other sports, Councilman Steve Detrick estimated.

Leaders recently approved a $4.4 million deal for 100 acres of farmland at Elk Grove’s south end for a soccer complex in an attempt to lure Major League Soccer to the city, but youth soccer is also in the plans for the parcel.

“We’re looking to keep expanding youth sports in Elk Grove,” Detrick said at Wednesday’s meeting.

Brenda Smart, head coach of the Elk Grove Piranhas swim team, which uses the Wackford Aquatic Center, said the city could attract big meets with a new pool geared for competitive swimming. Teams often travel to Davis, Folsom and Roseville. Others go as far north as Redding and as far west as Stanford to compete.

Nearly 370 swimmers suited up for the Piranhas’ summer team, she said.

“We have untapped, unmet potential in our city and in our community that we keep letting other surrounding cities capitalize on. We continue to help strengthen the economy of other communities,” Smart told the council. “This has to be looked at as a long-term investment for the city. ... Build it, and we will be there in force.”

Meantime, Elk Grove leaders soundly rejected a companion water park proposed for the site.

City leaders and some residents had little stomach for a towering $34 million water park complex that was to be built with private and public funds next to the swim facility, calling it overbuilt, grandiose and overbudget.

Developers had billed the project as a “water and adventure theme park,” with 50- to 70-foot water slides, seven-story zip line towers, a family entertainment center and cabanas. They estimated the park would draw more than 250,000 visitors per year.

The prospect disturbed residents at the meeting, including Yolanda Curio, who said a water park “would change the entire atmosphere of our neighborhood.”

Developers had pitched the water park as a revenue generator that would help pay for the competitive arena, but the project’s cost kept rising and developers failed to deliver a financing plan on time, city officials said.

“This location is not the right spot (for a water park). It’s one thing to ponder a bad decision. It’s another to defend it,” said Councilman Pat Hume, whose voice was among the loudest urging that the swim center plan be broken away from the water park project.

“Bottom line is, I’m tired of the amenities that our residents – particularly our youth athletes in the community – deserve being held hostage by more grandiose projects,” Hume said.

The city’s Planning Commission also had recommended dropping the water park from the project.