When people leading the most recent pool effort determined that a boundary change to the Crook County Parks and Recreation District would likely be necessary to fund operations of a new pool, the momentum the pool replacement effort had seemed to vanish.
Up to that point, much work had taken place in the public eye to figure out what kind of new pool the community wanted, what it would cost and what type of tax voters might be willing to approve. Adding the need of another voter-approved change – one that would require many new people to start paying parks district taxes – was apparently deemed a lot to ask.
It is hard to blame pool project leaders for that point of view. After all, voters had just opened their pocketbooks to fund a new jail, and keeping law-breakers incarcerated and improving community safety resonated a lot more with local residents than replacing a recreational amenity. How on Earth could anyone convince voters to take on a new construction bond and persuade some of them to additionally start paying a parks district tax?
But just as the project had seemingly returned to the back burner, it once again gained new life when John and Linda Shelk decided to reach out to other rural communities that have built new pools and find out how they did it and how they are keeping them going. Prior efforts had included citizen committee members visiting other pools to see what people had built and for how much, but this deeper dive examined taxing districts, pool revenues and expenses and multiple other factors. Capping the research, the public was provided a copy of the resulting report and representatives from each community attended a meeting to share the pros and cons of their pool projects with local residents.
The new material may have restored the momentum for a local pool project. About 20 people signed up at the end of the meeting to take the new information and move a pool replacement effort forward. Others have since contacted the newspaper office asking how to get involved.
Some intriguing ideas arose from the public meeting Tuesday, Aug. 20. Communities got creative when it came to raising funds for operations, particularly in Boardman where naming rights were sold to large businesses for seemingly every structure at the facility. They even sold benches that were placed on a pathway around the pool property. In Heppner, leaders struck a deal with ODOT that provided them land for a new pool free of charge. Communities also forged partnerships with school districts in exchange for swimming lessons or with the local hospital for therapy purposes.
The presenting community representatives stressed the importance of public outreach that not only helped bolster community buy-in, but ensured multiple government and civic organizations were on the same page and pulling in the same direction. As one presenter put, they succeeded because everybody in the community likes each other.
One statement perhaps stood out among the rest. If the majority of the community really wants a new pool, there is no reason they can't figure out a way to make it happen.
Does Crook County want a new pool? That question needs answered in the same undeniable way that community leaders determined if Crook County wants a new jail. Maybe that answer is no, and if it is, it's time to drop the idea unless community sentiments change.
But if the answer is yes, recent research suggests that project leaders should mount a massive campaign to give the idea a fighting chance when it's time to cast a vote for a construction bond, operating levy, parks district boundary change or whatever combination of the three is necessary. Other communities went door to door to improve public buy-in, which illustrates how much effort went into gaining support.
And like many community projects before this, leaders of the pool effort should be willing to think outside the box. Might they sell naming rights to big local businesses? How about some highly-visible, highly-entertaining fundraising events? Are there any in-kind contribution options? Crook County leaders and community have often gotten creative to fill a need, so we know it's possible.
Pool project momentum has returned it seems. What happens next is for the community to decide.
Quality local journalism takes time and money, which comes, in part, from paying readers. If you enjoy articles like this one, please consider supporting us.
(It costs just a few cents a day.)