Vote NO on Natatorium in RRISD Bond Proposal #3 (May 6th, 2017 Round Rock ISD Bond Election)
The City of Round Rock should take the lead role to construct, operate and maintain the indoor aquatic center (natatorium) if it is needed at all. It is NOT the proper role of RRISD to fund this project at a cost of $22 million, much less to pay annual operating and maintenance costs of $500,000. The natatorium is bundled in RRISD Bond Proposition #3 and just one of several reasons to vote it down.
Public discussion regarding a natatorium started in spring 2015 with two options under consideration. Option 1 consisted of a facility to seat up to 1500 spectators and included an 8-lane x 50 meter pool, a warm up/down pool, a 25 meter dive pool and dive spa. Option 1 had a construction cost of $31 million (excluding land purchase) and estimated operating/maintenance costs of $750,000/year. Option 2 removed the dive pool and spa and reduced seating to 600-800 spectators. Option 2 had a construction cost of $24 million and estimated operating/maintenance costs of $500,000/year. The following article provides an overview:
The City of Round Rock initially took the lead on the natatorium because a major part of the justification is the economic benefit to local businesses from attracting outside events (which requires a large facility plus marketing efforts). The natatorium will be used by private swim clubs, adults and others besides RRISD. And given the natatorium’s location, the natatorium is unlikely likely to be of benefit to adults or businesses in western areas of RRISD, particularly Austin. For some unexplained reason, RRISD’s Citizen Bond Committee (CBC) stepped in to take the lead on the project in October 2016. It went from being a city-led project that would benefit RRISD (among other paying clients) to a RRISD-led project that would also benefit private swim clubs, individuals and local
businesses. The shift in approach was probably because natatorium supporters realized that it would be easier to get funding by bundling the project into an education bond. Saying “it’s for the kids” is easier than justifying the natatorium on its own merits. Natatorium supporters claim that it will be used for high school swim team practices, which is not logistically feasible in terms of drive times and practice schedules. With just 8 lanes, the facility cannot practically be used as a practice facility for more than 2 teams concurrently. It will be of little to no use as a practice facility for Westwood, McNeil or the 6th high school (if it is built). RRISD could host 6 high school swim meets per year plus the District 11 Championship currently held at Jamail Swim Center at UT. But is it really worthwhile to invest $22 million and pay $500,000/year to host 7 meets per year?
The City of Round Rock has pledged to support the facility but has not quantified that support in dollar terms. If RRISD goes it alone, taxpayers should not be surprised if RRISD comes back in a couple of years with another bond proposal to expand the natatorium. If the project is not pursued, RRISD’s Board of Trustees can redirect the $22 million wherever they like. It could be used to fund some other project without seeking voter approval. In my opinion, RRISD will not be the primary beneficiary of the natarorium. If such a facility is needed, the City of Round Rock should build and operate it. The City can then charge RRISD and other users for its use.
Marshall Sprigg 4-17-2017