Bucking the odds

The Enterprise swimming pool is out of code and in danger of being filled in with dirt. A small group of residents is staging a last effort to save the pool.<I><BR>Photo by Michael Lane</I>

A small group of Wallowa County citizens has resurrected the idea of renovating Enterprise's swimming pool. They are tackling a difficult problem that has already stumped the Enterprise City Council.

The council, said City Administrator Michele Young, has given Public Works Director Larry Estes permission to advertise for bids to fill in the 32-year-old pool that is out of compliance with state regulations, thus making the site into a grassy extension of city park that could one day sport the city's ice skating rink.

The civic leaders did not come to their decision without considerable thought. In 2002 an independent company named ORB Organization, Inc. of Renton, Wash., did a $10,000 study on the pool and determined that it was out of compliance on 111 of 222 state regulations. The study estimated that it would cost the city $1.2 million to $1.6 million to provide the city with a swimming pool that was up to code.

On Feb. 11, 2002, Enterprise mayor Susan Roberts said, "The city can no longer subsidize a swimming pool for the county. The cost of refurbishing or building a new pool is beyond our capacity."

But a small group of citizens, knowing that other attempts to save the pool have failed, is willing to try one more time.

"How does a town like Athena (pop. 300) successfully operate a city pool when a county of 7,250 cannot find the funds?" asks six petitioners in a letter-to-the-editor kicking off their campaign to save the pool.

"We have contacted the city of Athena," said group spokesperson Sharon Cramer, "And their city council believes the pool is the most important thing they do with their tax money." She thinks Enterprise could do the same. "I think they didn't think the pool was very important," Cramer said. She does not believe that the $1 million-plus figure said needed to fix the pool is accurate.

"I just can't believe we are losing the only accessible pool in the whole county," said another of the six, Stephanie Gassett, who grew up swimming in the pool and now stresses its importance as a place to teach swimming lessons.

Enterprise councilor George Hill has grappled with the pool issue almost since it was closed to the public after the summer of 1999 and said, "The only future for a pool in Wallowa County is a countywide bond issue."

Other efforts have been and are being made to bring a public swimming pool to the county. In 2002 a group called Mountain Movers formed to bring a pool to Wallowa. An $600,000 grant was lined up and the Wallowa school district offered to donate land for the structure, but the organizers were unable to pencil out the economics of how the facility could pay for itself once it was built and in operation.

The Wallowa County Family Youth Center located between Joseph and Enterprise, has a long-range goal of building an indoor pool large enough to accommodate tourist use in the summer and student use throughout the year. Center Director Darrell Gilliland said the cost of the proposed pool would be from $3 million to $3.5 million and, between heating and personnel expenses, cost from $4,000 to $5,000 each month for upkeep.

Roberts said this week that the council knew that they could probably get grants to build a new pool facility, but that there were no grants for maintenance. "When the pool was open the operation and maintenance were eating everything we had." She added that the raising of fees, even by charging more to users from outside the city, could not keep up with costs.

She said that the council would have repaired the pool if the ORB study had discovered a correctable number of problems. Hill said that when the pool went out of service that it was leaking 5,000 gallons of water a day and no one knew where the water was going.

The new group, said Gassett, is both researching grants and planning to begin attending Enterprise city council meetings.

"I believe the money is out there if the desire is big enough," Gassett said. "We just need enough public support."

Note: This article has been corrected. See below.

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