Lopez pool project moves toward construction - Salish Current
January 17, 2024
Lopez pool project moves toward construction
Nancy DeVaux

Proponents of a swim center on Lopez Island envision an eco-friendly facility and hope to see construction begin by this summer. (FLIP illustration)

January 17, 2024
Lopez pool project moves toward construction
Nancy DeVaux

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Things are looking up for the long-anticipated Lopez Island Swim Center as 2024 begins.

After the Salish Current reported in late September that building permits were holding the project up, permits were been issued and that milestone celebrated on Dec. 8.

The permit review was outsourced by the county planning department due to the requirements for a water recreation facility including engineering plans and a different set of building codes for pools. This may have helped move the permit approval forward since San Juan County is currently without a planning director and staff has been working to catch up on a backlog of permit applications.

Approximately 1,300 donors have contributed over $7 million dollars towards building the pool. The board of Friends of the Lopez Pool (FLIP) approved that construction could begin when 80% of an estimated $8 million in project costwas raised, Anne Marie MacPherson, executive director of FLIP, told the Current. MacPherson said that an additional $700,000 was raised at the end of 2023 with $1.3 million still needed to meet estimated construction costs and startup and operating expenses. 

She noted that total project costs are not confirmed and that FLIP has found ways to reduce cost, which the project contractor is updating. She also noted that total project costs include soft costs outside of construction, and some costs already incurred include purchase of the pools, design and redesign, project management, and permitting, fees, staffing, administration and fundraising.

The public is invited to the next FLIP public meeting which will be held tomorrow (Jan. 18), 4–6 p.m., via Zoom. Email MacPherson to request the virtual meeting link.

Continuing questions

Concerns by some community members continue, with attention now on the plastic material that makes up the seasonal air-inflated dome. 

“I am doggedly, unapologetically against the PVC/PVDF dome,” wrote Michelle Collyer of Barnhill Farms on Lopez Island. “Lopez deserves a swim center constructed with less toxic, or maybe even nontoxic, materials. I encourage everyone to keep reading up on inflatable domes, PVC, and PVDF (which falls under the PFAS category). It’s important to understand the hazards they bring.”

FLIP responded that using an air-inflated dome during winter was a major cost-savings measure, and their project team spent many months researching alternative covered structures for community pools. “All dome users reported being extremely satisfied with the domes’ performance and durability,” FLIP wrote. “Three swim clubs on nearby Mercer Island use domes over their pools.”

Other concerns raised in an Oct. 4 letter to the Salish Current touched on the project’s financial sustainability, environmental impacts and the need for a pool at all, compared with other needs on Lopez. 

FLIP responded to concerns in an open letter to the community on Oct. 26.

The financials

The Swim Center Business Plan (2020) detailed projections and explained assumptions, although revised financials now indicate an increase in both annual revenue and expenses. 

Per an updated 2023 financial report, operating revenue will come from four user markets: full-time and part-time residents and their families and friends; residents of neighboring islands; and seasonal visitors. In a five-year operating projection, FLIP estimates in five years to have revenues of $1,014,142 and expenses of $868,366, with a net revenue of $145,776.A revenue deficit is shown only in the first year.

Approximately two-thirds of revenue will be generated by memberships and daily use fees, with 45% of this revenue projected during summer months, when the SJC Visitor Bureau estimates there are 80,000 visitors to Lopez Island. To determine the number of part-time residents, FLIP relied upon the number of seasonal properties (1,861) times 2.05 people per household, or 3,815, to estimate seasonal residents. Their estimate is that 8% of those, or 305, will be potential seasonal pool users.

Projections from Lopez full-year and school-year memberships constitute 37% of the operating income each year. Swim lessons, camps, special events and retail sales are expected to round out the Lopez Swim Center’s revenue sources. 

The business plan shows the cost of an adult drop-in pass to be $10, with a child (through age 17) at $5. An annual membership for an adult is $600, and a family $1,200. To rent the facility for a party would cost $225 for two hours. Other sources of revenue include fitness classes, swimming lessons, life-guard training, rental for physical therapy and rental of a meeting room. Rental income is projected to be over $19,000 per year.

Conserving resources

Regarding energy use, Lopez Swim Center has taken steps to reduce its energy consumption by focusing on three areas: water and space heating; water filtration; and water circulation / pumping. 

According to Ryan Nachreiner of Water Technology Inc., which prepared the design and engineering drawings and the specifications for the mechanical and water-treatment systems, “the most important investment is that the Center will operate with heat pumps powered by electricity. The net result is a 75% reduction in annual operating costs and eliminating the use of 48,000 gallons of propane annually.”

Nachreiner also said the system will use advanced filtration with regenerative media filters, which uses up to 90% less water than more common filtration systems. Instead of traditional sand filters, which would consume 22,000 gallons of water monthly, FLIP is investing in regenerative media filtration systems that use 740 gallons monthly.

According to FLIP outreach material, “Building a more eco-friendly pool,” the Lopez Swim Center also has its own well, which will serve two purposes: provide water for the center’s use and also provide potable water for the Lopez school. FLIP and the Lopez Island School District have established a water-sharing agreement, which will expand the district’s Group A water system to include the swim center’s well. Located on the swim center site, this well will provide a source of safe and reliable drinking water for the school. This agreement will resolve the school district’s water issues while saving FLIP capital costs.”

With permits in hand and fundraising momentum, a swimming pool on Lopez Island is on its way to become a reality. MacPherson estimated the start of the construction timeline at about six months, beginning “when the ground is dry and everything is in place — approximately late spring or early summer.”

— Reported by Nancy DeVaux

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