By Dermot Connolly
Oak Lawn residents concerned about the possible costs of a planned indoor swimming pool complex in the village got the answers they were looking for at an Oak Lawn Park District meeting on Monday.
The Park District Board of Directors hosted a presentation on Jan. 6 focusing on the design of an indoor family aquatic center being planned as an addition to the Community Pavilion at 9401 S. Oak Park Ave. It will include a six-lane, 25-yard lap pool that would range in depth from 3 ft. 6 inches to 12 ft. 6 inches, making diving possible. A leisure pool rising to 4 feet in depth and designed for young children or adults doing water aerobics and water walking is also planned, as well as a climbing wall at the deep end of the main pool.
While finance director Phil Costello stressed at that meeting that no referendum is planned or needed to raise taxes to pay for it, several residents seeking more detailed financial information were invited to attend the regular board meeting on Monday at the Oak View Center, where those were discussed.
Noting that the project has been under discussion and carefully budgeted for at least two years, Costello said it will be constructed for about $13.25 million, to be paid for with long-term bond debt.
“That amount includes $1.4 million in contingency funds,” he added, and the pool complex will have a $350,000 annual operating budget. User fees are expected to cover at least some of those costs as well.
“The engineering plans will be done over the next year, we expect this to open in the fall of 2022,” said Costello. The addition will be built on the east side of the entrance to the existing building, and he said the entrance area may have to be redirected.
“This has been a work-in- progress for a long time. I have seen a lot of the past year to show that we are doing what people want.
“What is exciting as a taxpayer myself, is that we did not have to go to referendum for this. A lot of taxpayers are skeptical about that. But (the district) has people come in and look at our books. Our finances are top-shelf,” said Commissioner Gary Callahan, noting that the park district routinely gets industry awards for solid finances.
The district is planning to submit a grant application next week, seeking as much as $2.5 million from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to help finance the project.
“In regards to this project, we would be quite excited and delighted to get this grant. I understand there is about $28 million available. And there are 40 or 50 park districts looking for money. We are not hanging our hats on that. We will move ahead with or without it,” said Callahan.
“We will be selling an alternate revenue source bond, with a lifetime of 13 to 16 years,” Costello said. “It will be set aside to be used only be used for the aquatic center.”
“And now it is a very good time because interest rates are so low,” said board President Jim Buschbach.
“We have no long-term debt, after retiring it last year. It is not a case of racing to get more. But if we can get more facilities in place, we can make our park district better,” said Costello.
Currently, the park district operates two outdoor pools during the summer, at Centennial Park beside the Pavilion where the indoor pool is planned, and at Central Pool, 9400 S. Kenton Ave.
David Bennett, one of the residents with financial questions, asked whether the $102,000 budgeted for new staff would be enough for the number of lifeguards needed for the indoor facility.
“Because schools reopen earlier. The pools close earlier (because student lifeguards quit). Have you ever considered volunteer lifeguards, maybe qualified seniors who don’t have to go back to school in the fall?”
“If you know of any with their qualifications up-to-date, let us know,” said Maddie Kelly, the executive director.
Bennett said he was satisfied with the answers he received Monday about the finances.
“I just didn’t want taxes to be raised on people because that wouldn’t be fair. But they seem to have everything in order and I am looking forward to it,” he said.
John Chesniak, who has been swimming in area pools for more than 45 years, said he too is looking forward to being able to swim year-round in Oak Lawn,
“It is going to be fantastic,” said Lisa Boland, the board secretary
She and Kelly said afterward that while plans are not yet finalized, in all likelihood the project will move forward to completion.
“It is very exciting. Of all the comments in surveys and on social media, I might have only seen one negative comment,” said Kelly. “We have to wait for the engineering and everything to be done, but it has over a 90-percent chance (of coming to fruition).”