New Kirksville Aquatic Center in voters' hands

Leaking pipes, rusting electrical boxes and a broken water slide; those are just some of the issues wreaking havoc at a local swimming center.

The Kirksville Aquatic Center is often a popular place for families in the summertime.

However, if ample funding does not come through, it could soon be a thing of the past.

It's no secret to many in northeast Missouri that the aquatic center has had its ups and downs over the years.

Kirksville Assistant City Manager Ashley Young says that with so many problems, it's getting harder and harder to keep it up and running.

"If nothing more, than what we are doing now is done, the aquatic center will have to close within three to five years. It will simply deteriorate to the point where we can no longer keep it operational."

But the question is, how did the aquatic center fall into such a state of disrepair so quickly?

The facility opened in June 1999.

Young says that much of it deals with the design of the facility and funding issues.

He said that if constructed correctly, the cost back then should have been around $4 million.

Instead, he says it was built with only $2 million.

"The design is really the root of all the problems. The contractors actually did a good job. They are a local contracting firm, but they couldn't help the designs that they were given by the firm that designed the pool. Unfortunately, in order to keep under the dollar amount that they had available, multiple corners were cut."

Flaws in the design include the concession stand being accessible by the outdoor pool only.

That means, the aquatic center doesn't have the opportunity to serve snacks year-round in order to generate an extra source of revenue.

Going inside, while the pool looks like a decent size, it's actually not a regulation Olympic-sized pool.

As a result, swim meets for local schools and other organizations, cannot be held.

But, those issues are just scratching the surface.

Many of the problems at the center are behind closed doors and can't be seen by the public.

However, they're something staff must deal with every day.

"The electrical is in the same room as the chemicals used to treat the water," said Kirksville Recreation Specialist Robin Harden.

"That's a terrible idea. It contributes to the rust and deterioration of the entire electrical system, which at the end of the day, is a fire hazard. It's a safety hazard for not only the city employees, but the patrons that utilize this facility and enjoy it."

Harden says she's proud of her staff for working diligently to keep the facility up and running, even when it seems nearly impossible.

"There was one summer, three or four years ago, the pool at its worst was losing 50,000 gallons of water a day. We were able to make the pool operable. There were a few tweaks that were made. People may have noticed a few of those things, but I don't think at that time they realized how bad and how hard it was to operate the facility."

However, this past summer is when people finally started to realize that all may not be fine with the aquatic center in its current condition.

Those issues were revealed when the popular water slide was not able to be used because of a broken pipe underground.

Even then, Harden says staff worked to "put lipstick on the pig."

"To keep the pool operable this summer, we did put trash bags and hose clamps over pipes that we identified were causing the leaks in the water slide. Literally, we were able to swim due to some heavy duty trash bags last summer."

But what happens next, and what does the future of the aquatic center look like?

Young says that recently, a study was performed on the existing facility.

In order to renovate it, the price-tag would total over $2 million, and many of the design issues would still be the same.

That's why city staff as well as many others in the community are hoping for the half-cent Parks and Recreation Sales Tax to pass this April.

Funds from that tax would then be used to build a brand-new aquatic center and improve all city parks.

If voters say "yes" to the tax, city staff would then start the process of asking the public what they would like to see in a new facility, work with firms to come up with a plan and then settle on a new location.

The general municipal election to vote on the parks and rec sales tax will be held on April 4.

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