County proposes closure of Vashon Pool

Vashon's only public pool could be one of the casualties in King County's latest budget crisis.

County Executive Kurt Triplett, struggling to close a $56 million gap in the county's $627.5 million budget, unveiled a spending plan Monday that would eliminate 367 jobs and close 40 parks, including the county's only two outdoor public pools — one on Vashon and another at Cottage Lake.

Vashon Park District officials and swim club activists, however, are already scrambling, looking for a way that the popular recreation site could be turned over to the park district — a move that could possibly enhance services at the pool.

"We're in a good position to maybe move forward," said Wendy Braicks, executive director at the Vashon Park District.

The Vashon Seals Swim Team, she added, "is very excited to have a pool that's locally controlled."

Triplett's decision to call for the "mothballing" of the county's two outdoor pools — especially the one on Vashon — was a difficult decision, said Doug Williams, a spokesperson for the county's Department of Natural Resources and Parks.

"Everyone recognizes the hardship that creates in closing the only public pool on the Island, but it's a difficult time and difficult decisions are being made across the county," he said.

But when word got out about the proposed closure, Braicks said she called Kevin Brown, who heads the county's park division. County and Vashon park officials have talked off and on over the years about the Island taking over ownership of the pool, she said.

Coincidentally, a meeting of the Vashon Commons Committee was already scheduled for last night; the Vashon Commons are those sites that are owned by the Vashon Island School District and used by both the schools and park programs. Braicks said she brought up the impending crisis around Vashon's only public pool, and the group agreed that she should form and head up a committee tasked with determining if Vashon could find a way to take over ownership of the pool.

Some county money will likely be available to those communities that organize quickly to take on parks and recreation sites the county is shedding, Braicks said.

"The timeline is very short. ... We want to get a plan together quickly so that we can take advantage of whatever funding they have to offer," she said.

According to Williams, the Vashon Pool operates at a loss: It costs about $200,000 to maintain and brings in around $55,000 in annual revenue. Braicks said that the pool, under Vashon Park District's ownership, would have to break even. It's possible the park district could figure out how to do that, she added, because of the reduced costs of local ownership and the ability to add programs and even extend the pool's season.

"Their expenses are higher than ours because they have people who from over town to do maintenance," Braicks said.

Gary Gray, a board member and past president of the Vashon Seals Swim Team, said he sees the county's move as a potentially good one for Vashon.

"It's sort of welcome, because it's forcing the hand of the community to make a decision," he said.

The county's programs have limited the pool's use, he said. Youth, for instance, have to go off-Island for lifeguard training. Under local ownership, he said, the swim team could work with the park district to make the pool a more vibrant part of the community.

"It's nostalgic and sad," he said. "But at the same time, I think it's a great opportunity for the community."

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