By Leah Leach
Peninsula Daily News
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Right now, the concrete hole in the ground and the building around it at the corner of Division Street and Maple Avenue is a storage area for rummage sale items sold to pay the bills of the unused facility.
But that's going to change, said the new chairwoman of the Quillayute Valley Park and Recreation District board.
"We are now a recognized board with five members," said former Mayor Nedra Reed, who is serving on the board with longtime former chairwoman Sandra Carter, Don Grafstrom, Jim Smith and Ron Anderson.
"We are going to work toward reopening the pool."
And they plan to do it without asking for more public money, Reed said.
"We are not going to ask for a levy," Reed said. "This is not the time to ask the taxpayers for a levy.
"We have to look at whatever means are available to us to: one, put the building back into use and; two, put it into use as an aquatic center."
Construction bonds will not be retired until 2023, Reed said.
"Right now, we have a wonderful facility we're not able to use, and we're still paying on it," she said.
The next board meeting will be at 5 p.m. May 12 in the Forks Community Center, 91 Maple Ave.
"We would love to have people there," Reed said.
The group is pursuing two avenues toward reopening the building: a public-private partnership and a feasibility study for making structural changes.
The group is negotiating with Health First Fitness Center in Forks, attempting to build a working relationship that will lead to a fitness center in the building, Reed said.
"The original intent was to have the fitness element like SARC [Sequim Aquatic Recreation Center] in Sequim. But it didn't come to fruition.
"With the public-private partnership, we hope we can make it work."
The group envisions the building being used for summer programs for children, wellness programs for both children and adults and as a venue for such groups as the Boy Scouts and the West End Youth League, Reed said.
"There is a lot of potential and possibilities," she said. "We will need grants."
The group also has issued a request for a proposal for an architect and engineering firm to study the structural changes needed to have a fitness center in the building, perhaps through pouring a temporary floor over a portion of the pool.
"We're looking at structural modifications to the building which will facilitate the multifunctional use of the facility," Reed said.
The proposals are due May 20. The board will choose a firm to begin the feasibility study, paying for the study with capital money left over from the original project.
Such money cannot be used for operating expenses, only for capital improvements.
"At that point, we will have community meetings and talk to people," Reed said.
"There may be some incredible ideas out there."
But those with ideas shouldn't wait. The board members want to hear from members of the community now.
"We're looking for ideas," Reed said. "We're looking for participation in the community. We're looking for the kind of spirit the people in Forks have, that if it can be done, we're going to do it."
Not a smooth course
The effort to open, and keep open, an aquatics center in Forks has not been smooth sailing.
After many attempts in the 1980s and '90s failed to raise funds, voters approved a $2.9 million bond issue in 2000 to build the facility, which was constructed with lap pools and a water park area and was intended to be a multiuse fitness facility.
It opened in 2005.
But voters did not approve operating funds, turning down two maintenance and operations tax levy measures before the facility was shuttered in 2006, and again voting down a measure to create a metropolitan park and recreation taxing district in 2007.
The board for the last three years has been only two people -- Carter and Deborah Anderson, who retired recently -- working to pay the bills.
Expenses were $20,000 annually, half of which was insurance.
"They have tried so hard to make it work," Reed said.
Last year, no candidates stepped up to run for the four open commissioners' seats.
With only two members, the junior taxing district board lacked a quorum and couldn't legally operate.
The three county commissioners could have dissolved it, but there were questions of what would happen to both the assets and responsibility for the outstanding bond.
"We had to apply to Clallam County, which put out a request for board members," Reed said.
The commissioners appointed Reed, who did not run for a third term as the mayor of Forks in 2009, and Grafstrom, a Forks real estate agent. They were sworn in by Carter, Reed said.
The unpaid positions are scheduled to be placed on the general election ballots in November 2010 and in 2011.
Carter appointed Smith, a retired engineer, and Anderson.
Carter resigned her chairwoman position at a meeting last month and is now serving as secretary-treasurer.
Grafstrom is vice chairman.
Now the group is cleaning out the aquatics center -- they expect to have donated items to local churches by Saturday -- and "trying to find a way to get the power back on," Reed said.
People with ideas for reopening the Forks pool can contact board members "the way they always do -- at the grocery store and the post office," Reed said laughing.
Comments also can be addressed to the Quillayute Valley Park and Recreation District and mailed to P.O. Box 1054, Forks, WA 98331.
Reed's home number is 360-374-6680.
Managing Editor/News Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3531 or firstname.lastname@example.org.