Water slides, cabanas, pools: $45 million aquatic center coming to this Sacramento community

Sacramento is one big step closer to having its first Olympic-sized swimming pool. And that’s not all: water slides, a meeting space and shaded bleachers are part of the plans as well.

The Sacramento City Council is set to approve $14.4 million in funding for the North Natomas Community Center and Aquatics Center – the last piece of funding needed to make the long-awaited $45 million project happen.

The center, being built at North Natomas Regional Park, will feature the city’s first 50-meter competition pool with 13 diving boards and lanes. It will also feature a 25-meter pool, four water slides, a shallow kids’ pool, and a kids’ rope course and play area, according to renderings created by BCA Architects. Reclining chairs, cabanas, an open lawn and shaded bleachers facing the 50-meter pool are also planned.

The pool will be attached to a community center, featuring a large meeting space, locker rooms and bathrooms, James Christensen, facilities manager, told the City Council Tuesday.

The center will sit adjacent to the 220-acre regional park, which features a relocated dog park, bike trails and a farmers’ market. North Natomas Regional Park was first designed nearly two decades ago and was billed as a recreational hub for a booming North Natomas – the original plans called for a lakeside boathouse, cafe and gardens. But progress there has been slow and much of the park remains undeveloped. On Friday morning, a handful of people played with their dogs in the dog parks, rode on bicycles and strolled along the park’s trails.

Sacramento-based Otto Construction plans to break ground on the aquatic center in late August or early September, and finish in the winter of 2020-21, a city staff report said.

The project has been the subject of political debate at City Hall. It could be the first big-ticket item to receive funding from a sales tax approved by voters in November, or could get money from other sources.

Several other Sacramento area municipalities have 50-meter pools, but they are significantly smaller than the one planned for Natomas. Elk Grove in May opened its new aquatic center featuring a 50-meter pool with four diving boards and lanes. Roseville’s aquatics complex also has a 50-meter pool with eight lanes.

To train at a high level, though, some Sacramento-area parents drive their high school children to Davis.

“There’s a symbiotic relationship between who she is as a person, student and athlete. She is not unique, however, but to support her, we must drive,” an emotional Alison Appel of Arden Arcade told the council last month, describing her daughter. “More children in Sacramento should have access to the same opportunities.”

Appel, who said her high school-aged daughter is in the top 3 percent of swimmers nationally, was among dozens of residents who testified to the City Council last month about why the pool is important.

The pool could also greatly improve tourism, said Delilah Villalpando of Geweke Hospitality, which runs three Natomas hotels.

“If a pool was built to these specifications that high-level swimming competitions require, the team at Visit Sacramento would target major national swimming competitions to come to our region,” Villalpando told the City Council. “The overnight guests that would go along with these events would be incredibly valuable to our hotels and our entire community.”

New sales tax used?

The project has been in the works for more than five years, but has never been officially green lighted. Next month, that’s set to happen.

Seven council members voiced their support for funding the aquatic center last week. Next, they’ll have to decide where the money will come from.

Mayor Darrell Steinberg has repeatedly promised the majority of new sales tax revenue generated by November’s Measure U would go to uplift disadvantaged neighborhoods. Steinberg says he will support a portion of Measure U bonding revenue be used for the pool project, as long as it’s included in a package to also improve the Martin Luther King, Jr. Library in Meadowview and the North Sacramento Library on Del Paso Boulevard.

The pool would be the first big-ticket item the city will have committed Measure U money on.

“It would not be fair to fund $14.4 million for a single project in Natomas, and then resume the fight over whether to devote the majority of the second half of Measure U to economic development in all our neighborhoods,” Steinberg wrote in a July 16 letter to City Manager Howard Chan. The mayor was absent from last week’s City Council meeting.

Councilmen Jay Schenirer, Rick Jennings and Eric Guerra – who have been the mayor’s allies during a contentious budget process – again said they agreed with the mayor Tuesday.

The city’s other option would be to pay for the pool using money in the water fund, then repay it, with about $457,000 in interest, the city staff report said. Money in the water fund comes from fees on water customers, development fees and other water-related fees the city charges.

The city could either repay it using a portion of the $50 million in Measure U bond revenue that the city plans to spend on city buildings, or from other sources, such as the general fund or an end-of-year surplus.

The city may not receive the bonding revenue for more than a year, though, City Treasurer John Colville said.

It’s also possible the city could pay for the project in cash out of the general fund, using no new Measure U money. Councilwoman Angelique Ashby, who represents Natomas and is spearheading the project, said she prefers that option. Councilmen Steve Hansen and Jeff Harris agreed.

The council plans to decide next month which option to choose.

If the project uses Measure U money, Schenirer, Guerra and Jennings said the two community advisory committees created to oversee Measure U spending should vet it.

“Moving forward with this item with this large a price tag circumvents the process that the Measure U Committee was implemented to create,” Measure U Committee Advisory Committee Chairwoman Flojaune Cofer wrote in an email to council members. “I think it would be prudent to determine if a development project of this size will (at minimum) serve the immediate area equitably.”

Ashby said there is not time for the project to go through that process. She pointed out that $16 million worth of projects the mayor proposed and council approved last month did not go through those committees, either. The pool is much more expensive than any single item on that list, however.

“Putting this to another group and bringing it back, we will lose it,” Ashby said last week. “We don’t have time for it.”

Otto Construction gave the city a “guaranteed maximum price” for the project of $45 million, but that’s only valid until Sept. 20, the staff report said.

The $14.4 million in city money will be combined with $10.6 million from the Natomas Unified School District, and another $20 million in city money, mostly developers’ fees, that can only be spent in Natomas.

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Theresa Clift covers Sacramento City Hall. Before joining The Bee in 2018, she worked as a local government reporter for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Daily Press in Virginia and the Wausau Daily Herald in Wisconsin. She grew up in Michigan and graduated from Central Michigan University.