Pool feasibility discussed

Nathan Steele

A meeting was held last Thursday to understand potential yearly operational costs for the coming  Custer Community Campus.
The project is led by Tallgrass Landscape Architecture of Custer. Owners Matt Fridell and Tanya Olson gave the presentation and then led attendees through an exercise to better understand operational costs and how that will impact what kind of facility may be affordable on a year-over-year basis. It was noted this meeting is solely about yearly operational costs and would not cover the construction cost of the facility.
“Nothing has been decided about phasing or exactly what will be built yet. Right now we are looking at how operational costs impact what is affordable for our community,” said Fridell.
The first part of the presentation gave attendees some background on the project, saying a community center has been discussed in various capacities since the 1990s. Now, the ball has really started rolling with several meetings and community surveys for people to share input on the topic in the past year.
Fridell said the surveys showed what the community indicated it wants in the facility and also what it wants as far as a process in getting one.  For the facility, the respondents to surveys said they wanted a modest aquatic wellness center, a versatile recreation center, outdoor integration and a multi-use gathering space for a variety of ages.
In achieving that vision, respondents also wanted a common-sense approach, a long-term and well-thought-out plan that considers recurring costs, something that serves residents more than tourists and an understanding of what will happen to other facilities in town.
The state of the current city pool was also discussed. The pool has been in place for decades and was reconstructed in the 1990s. It also has to be remodeled every year due to the annual threat of complete pool failure. Like other facilities, the pool also faces challenges with staffing.
“It’s kind of a ‘get off the pot situation’ coming up,” said Olson.
On a slide listing what Custer may be able to take away from other communities that have similar facilities, a point warns “it is never easy.” The biggest challenge is in staffing—both in finding staff and in paying them. For the yearly operational costs in similar communities, the total share of the budget for wages, taxes, retirement, unemployment and insurance ranged from between 50 to nearly 70 percent.
The next highest cost was usually for utilities. In Deadwood, utilities account for 17.8 percent of the operational budget. Sturgis has a similar split with 18.8 percent. Because Evans Plunge uses naturally-warm spring water, its utility costs are relatively low at 8 percent.
In each compared community, the total operational costs ranged from $757,000 to $853,000. Each center has unique amenities and funding models. Finding what may work for Custer was the focus of the next stage of the meeting.
Following the presentation, the attendees turned their attention to the worksheets provided at each table while Olson and Fridell explained the coming exercise. Then, it was the job of attendees to walk through the room where posters explaining possible revenues and expenses were posted. Working through each station, people could come up with possible estimates for annual operational costs for the facility.
Stations had attendees consider expenses like personal and maintenence as well as potential revenues such as a city contribution, memberships and local use, a revenue increase to the city general fund (through a Business Improvement District), tourist use, community fundraising, local partnerships and revenue generated by possible amenities with the campus.
Worksheets were then collected and input gathered will help to inform future decisions regarding the project.
The next meeting will cover design concepts for the campus and will be held May 21 at 6 p.m. in the Pine Room of the Custer County Courthouse Annex.

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