OURAY – The historic Ouray Hot Springs Pool reached a major milestone earlier this month when the Department of Local Affairs announced the award of a $200,000 grant to kick-start an ambitious pool improvement project planned by the City of Ouray.
The grant money, combined with a $100,000 cash match from the city, will pay for a feasibility study to determine whether or how the pool can be redesigned, and to then actually execute a new design.
The city applied for the grant in March, and received notice a couple weeks ago that its application had been successful.
For several years, City of Ouray has been chipping away at needed improvements to its 80-year-old Hot Springs Pool facility – starting in 2010 with the completion of Phase 1 of a three-phase project to replace the delivery system that pipes geothermal spring water from its emanation point in Box Canyon to the Hot Springs Pool.
Two years ago, the City also executed a $174,000 bathhouse facelift. With that project complete, city officials realized it was time to take the plunge and formulate a comprehensive plan for major pool infrastructure improvements.
The pool dates back to the 1920s, and generations of Ouray City Councilors have agreed that it needs a complete overhaul.
The matter has consistently been identified as a priority at council goal-setting and budget work sessions over the past several years. In late 2012, council unanimously agreed to authorize the formation of an exploratory committee devoted to pool improvements.
This ad hoc group, comprised of a variety of community stakeholders, has met as frequently as once a week over the past year and a half, to envision and prioritize the scope of needed pool improvements, and ultimately provide a recommended course of action to council.
The committee determined that its top priority, before any “sexy” details such as pool and bathhouse redesign could be considered, was to achieve consistently warm water temperatures – particularly during the winter months.
(When the pool was originally built in the late 1920s, it was intended and designed for summer use only.)
Committee members successfully argued that the project properly belonged in the hands of a professional engineering group which could assemble and make sense of a patchwork of existing data and plans, in order to develop a comprehensive proposal for how to move forward with pool infrastructure improvements.
In early 2013, the committee commissioned an analysis, which was conducted by the Grand Junction-based SGM Engineering firm. The $20,000 study, completed about a year ago, concluded (among other things) that the city doesn’t have access to enough geothermal water to keep entire pool warm on cold winter days.
Pool improvement committee members have since discussed redesigning the pool to make better use of the hot water it does have, perhaps by closing off some of the cold-water sections in the winter, while expanding the shallow hot soaking section, and creating a new warm-water area with adequate depth for aerobics, lap swimming and a play amenity in the winter, without trying to keep the entire lap lane and deep section open.
“That is the overview of the design we want,” said City Resource Manager Rick Noll, who has overseen the pool improvement committee’s efforts from the city’s perspective.
The pool’s infrastructure, plumbing, water distribution and filter systems are at the end of their useful life, and will also need to be upgraded.
The newly awarded DOLA grant will be used to conduct an engineering analysis of the infrastructure, and put out a request for proposals for professional design services with swimming pool design engineers.
“We have come up with sketches, but obviously we need to have it done professionally,” Noll said. “Our goal is to have that RFP out and ready to publish within the next six weeks. Assuming we get a viable response, we will award a contract and through the coming winter and early spring, we will work with the design team.”
One criteria of the DOLA grant is to have a significant amount of public input, substantiated by a larger group of the public than the existing ad hoc committee.
Toward that end, “We are hoping to have a conceptual overview of the project ready for review sometime early in the spring,” Noll said.
City officials plan to apply for additional grant funding from the State of Colorado, as well as private foundations, to finance further stages of the project. They also plan to utilize anticipated pool revenues, “So we wouldn’t be going to tax payers for dollars,” Noll predicted. “We are very fortunate we have a pool that makes money; most municipal pools are subsidized for their operating expenses, let alone capital improvement projects.”
The Hot Springs Pool has always been a cash cow for the city. In 2011, for the first time ever, the gigantic outdoor municipal hot tub grossed over $1 million. The bump in revenues came from modest fee increases that had gone into effect the previous summer.
2013 was another record-setting year, in which the Hot Springs Pool grossed a whopping $1.1 million.
For years, the City of Ouray used this cash cow to prop up its whole Parks Fund, paying not only for the pool’s own operations and maintenance expenses (which rack up to over $850,000 annually), but also for park maintenance throughout the town, and even for upkeep at the Ouray Community Center.
Thanks to a recent overhaul of the City’s Parks Fund, all of the money generated by the pool is now channeled back into the pool itself, with the bulk going for O&M, and the remainder set aside for needed improvements.
“Today we can’t afford to pay for the needed improvements, but by the time we get the design in hand, we will be in a good position,” Noll predicted. “It’s a big, important project. In talking to DOLA in the grant application process, we emphasized that this is a project that benefits more than just the 1,000 residents of Ouray, or the 4,000 residents of Ouray County. The Hot Springs Pool is a resource enjoyed by everyone in Western Colorado.
“That’s why we want to preserve it. We want people to love Ouray, and feel like it’s their pool.”
The Ouray Hot Springs Pool was built in 1926 by volunteer labor overseen by the Ouray Recreation Association Corporation. The bathhouse was constructed the following year and dedicated on July 4, 1927. In 1930 the Recreation Association turned the pool and bathhouse over to the City which has since assumed operation and maintenance of the facility. A major fire destroyed the original bathhouse in 1988 and a new bathhouse was constructed and includes locker rooms, a fitness center, and a swim shop and massage center. The last time the pool infrastructure received a major overhaul was in 1995.
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