JUST THE FACTS. . .
submitted by Michael Chain in 2004 (Co-Founder and President of the Upper Dublin Swimming & Diving Foundation, Chairman of the Upper Dublin Indoor Recreation Taskforce U-DIRECT, resident of Upper Dublin for the past 19 years)
In 1995 all three of my children were involved in Upper Dublin aquatic programs (competing for both UDAC and the Upper Dublin High School teams). I had recently completed a three-year term as President of the Upper Dublin Aquatic Club and as a result had become increasingly aware of the shortcomings of the UDHS pool. I was instrumental in forging a partnership between the community program and the school district. I worked within the UDAC organization to raise the funds necessary to donate a Colorado Timing System (total cost $15,000.00) for installation in the school districtís natatorium, which is still in use today. That investment in the pool was the first of many cooperative maintenance and improvement ventures shared by UDAC and the UD school district.
During this period of collaboration between community and school district aquatic programs, a multitude of concerns were discussed, such as air and water quality, noise, safety, under-sized support facilities (lobby area, locker rooms, deck space, etc.), and mechanical conditions. Even though parents and participants were frustrated with continuing facility concerns, UDAC consistently produced top-level competitors who have accomplished extraordinary achievements at both the high school and collegiate levels. State AAA champions, national collegiate finalists, and Olympic qualifiers mark these achievements. The athletic leadership at UDAC and the high school, together with supportive parents, helped to develop and nurture this success. In fact, the competitive aquatic program has developed more high school All-Americans than all sports combined at UDHS. This background is important information because it explains some of the reasons UD aquatic supporters are so passionate about the pool issue, and it also serves as a lead into the chronology of events which will provide a better understanding of the recently completed indoor recreation center feasibility process.
The Board of Commissioners of Upper Dublin commissioned a report to assess recreation programs and facilities in the township. The conclusion of that report was that there is a need to both increase and improve programs and facilities for recreation in Upper Dublin.
Several sections of that report highlighted the need for indoor recreation programs and facilities.
The Upper Dublin Swimming and Diving Foundation (UDSDF) was formed to promote aquatics in Upper Dublin and to provide the leadership necessary to bring a first class aquatic center to fruition. This organization set out to raise funds to provide assistance and direction to that effort. Golf outings provided the basis of that fund raising and the organization was able to begin evaluating a development strategy. UDSDF also provides scholarships to students in the Upper Dublin community on an annual basis.
In cooperation with UDSDF, Sam Katzís development group presented to the community, through the township board of commissioners, the concept of developing an ice skating center with a competitive/community aquatic component. We had learned that unlike skating rinks that can be very profitable, it is difficult, if not impossible, to build and operate a pool for which the operating income covers the cost of both debt and operations. That rink/pool concept would have applied the profit from the ice rinks to both debt and operation of the pool. For several valid reasons, this proposal met with opposition and was abandoned.
UDSDF commissioned a professional report regarding the physical condition of the high school pool, which documented what most of us believed Ė the high school natatorium is inadequate, unsafe, and in a state of disrepair.
UDSDF hired a consultant to study pool usage and the demand for facilities compared to design and capacity. The result of that report indicated a growing demand for aquatic recreation in the community as well as the conclusion that the pool was inadequate, unsafe, and in a state of disrepair. The final recommendation of this report suggested that Upper Dublin should begin an effort to develop an aquatic facility combined with other indoor recreation facilities whose income would help pay for the building and operating costs of a pool. Sound familiar??
UDSDF, up to this point in time, was focused solely on the development of an aquatic center.
Following recommendations from the report completed in early 2003, UDSDF was granted permission by the township board of commissioners to form the Upper Dublin Indoor Recreation Taskforce (U-DIRECT). Its purpose would be to evaluate indoor recreation in Upper Dublin. As a result, a team of consultants was hired to evaluate the following:
Community needs and wants based on population, trends, and habits.
Current community facilities.
Prioritization of components desired if such a center were to be developed.
The communityís willingness and ability to fund an indoor recreation center.
Information produced by the consultants during the feasibility process led us to believe that there exists a defined need by all age groups for additional indoor facilities as well as for the improvement of current facilities; and that if a facility was developed, residents would financially support it with user fees. Feasibility typically defines a market need, a physical plant that supports that need, and a proforma that outlines the financial result, taking into account the investment and ongoing operation. A feasibility study typically does not include taxpayer opinion regarding the contribution of tax dollars. However, as a group, the UD township board of commissioners requested that the question of taxpayersí willingness to fund the development of an indoor recreation center through increased tax dollars be addressed. The tax question was explored through a community survey that was mailed to over 8,000 Upper Dublin residents. Over 4,000 returns were received, response being that residents were not in favor of increased taxes to fund $13 million for such a center.
Throughout the feasibility process, U-DIRECT insured that both UD citizens and public officials were informed on all facets of the study. Public meetings were held, the Ambler Gazette and the Enterprise provided media coverage, and U-DIRECT launched a website.
U-DIRECTís expenditures exceeded $70,000.00 of hard-earned, non-public funds. Noteworthy for their financial contribution and leadership are UDAC, UDJAA, UDSC, and UDSDF.
U-DIRECT has completed its mission of evaluation. Although I recognize that a new pool and/or indoor recreation center is just one of many issues that presents a substantial challenge to Upper Dublinís public officials, I believe that:
The community has a pool that is undersized, outdated, and unsafe.
There remains a need for gymnasium space, and there are limited indoor recreation and socialization opportunities for UDís youth and its growing senior population.
All professional studies completed thus far indicate a need for the addition of new, as well as improvement of current, recreation facilities. They also conclude that UDís citizens would use and support these facilities with user fees.
There are creative financial, design, and management partnerships available to provide the necessary capital and development that could insure continued growth and an improved quality of life in Upper Dublin.
The school district of Upper Dublin has a responsibility regarding this issue because they own and operate the existing high school facility.
The township of Upper Dublin also shares a responsibility for this issue because UD residents use and depreciate district-owned facilities.
In conclusion, I respectfully challenge the citizens of Upper Dublin to insist on high quality recreational and competitive athletic programs and facilities. I also challenge the public officials of Upper Dublin, both school district and township, to work together to satisfy the identified needs.