Confusion between city, school board causes frustration with pool

On Jan. 1 the Mount Pleasant Aquatic Center will officially open its doors to the public, from 12 PM to 10 PM, with no admission cost for the day.

Although the actual construction of the pool began only several months ago, the city has spent years ironing everything out to get the pool to where it is today, and even at the end of the project, there were still a few snags

Mayor Blackham of Mount Pleasant first approached the school district about building a pool in 2014, asking the newly appointed superintendent Sam Ray for the district’s help on the project. Wasatch Academy had committed to be a part of the project already, so Ray’s agreement sealed NSSD as the third benefactor.

The biggest problem the group faced was where to pull the money from to build the pool. Several options were discussed, such as forming a recreation district or using the redevelopment program, but there were too many problems to effectively use any of them.

In 2016, the city decided to turn to the people for help, proposing a 2.25 percent tax increase on gas and electric bills to generate the money needed to operate the pool all year long. Prop 7, as it was called, was met with shocking community support; passing with over 72 percent of the popular vote.

“We had wide community backing, and so we felt good about that,” said Mount Pleasant city council member Justin Atkinson. “We had a good feeling going forward having the support of the community behind this thing.”

Atkinson has served as a city council member for eight years now, but he also works for an engineering firm. His company has been tasked to oversee some of the construction management of the pool, so the mayor put Atkinson over the pool since he was involved already.

“I kinda wear two hats in this thing,” Atkinson said. “I try to avoid a conflict of interest, so I try to let other people from my office work on the construction part and I do my best to take care of the city council role.”

In the midst of all planning and money-hunting to get the pool up and running, conflict and confusion arose between the city and the school district.

“We from the very beginning said we wanted to help. We would love to have a pool,” Ray. “But from the very beginning we said we didn’t have large cash donations we could make.”

Ray worked with Mayor Blackham and the school board to find a way to pitch in, and their months of discussion resulted in the district donating the land for the pool to be built on in a 50-year lease.

“Mayor Blackham talked with the school board and they talked this all through, we met, they signed documents, and we gave them what they needed so they could go to the CIB to ask for the grant,” Ray said. “What I didn’t realize was that the City council wasn’t a party to all this conversation.”

Mayor Blackham resigned from office in June of 2017 due to health concerns, and shortly after his resignation the trouble surfaced.

City Recorder Jane Banks reportedly told Ray that the city had no evidence of an understanding from the district concerning O&M costs. Ray says he thoroughly expressed the school’s position from the beginning; that the school’s money needed to be focused primarily on taking care of their faculty, but they would donate the land for the pool and parking lot in exchange for the swim team’s use of it.

In light of the apparent confusion from the city council and their new mayor, the district wrote a letter to the city, explaining the school’s stance, hoping to clear everything up. Instead, the letter was met with frustration from the city council, and the city said there was still no solid agreement as to what the school would pay.

The council met to further discuss the letter, and representatives from both sides have met to discuss a solution.

“We’ve had board members meet with city council members to work everything out, and they seem to be working on a resolution that makes everybody happy so everyone can continue working together,” said Ray.

With less than a month remaining until the pool opens, everything seems to have been worked out, and the city has recognized the school district’s position.

“You know, North Sanpete isn’t in the same situation as Wasatch Academy; they can’t just commit those kinds of funds,” Atkinson said. “We all run on shoestring budgets around here. They’re limited on what they can do.”

Atkinson continues, “There was a little bit of misunderstanding. I think when we first started looking at this thing, it was a concept. We needed certain things to turn in the application to make it considered by the funding agency, like the land and the costs and such, so we were kind of pulling things together not knowing what was going to happen.”

With less than a month before the pool opens, everyone put the past in the past to prepare the pool for the public. The city hired Britanny Adams, the swim coach at NS, as the pool manager.

Besides trying to balance the two jobs, Adams is also enrolled as a full time student at SUU, taking online classes so she can stay close to work. Despite her crazy schedule, Adams loves her jobs, and she’s thrilled for the pool to open.

The swim teams from Wasatch and NS were offered early access of the facility, and they’ve been using it for a few weeks now. Both teams have been commuting to Snow College every day to hold practices, so a pool in Mount Pleasant is literally game changing for the teams.

“We would leave for Snow at about three o’clock, be home by 5:30 or 6:00, and only get an hour and a half of practice in,” Adams said. “We’re here by 3:00, we’re done by 5:00, and we get a full 2 hours of practice.”

“I can get from the school to the pool in three minutes instead of 20, and I’m going to be saving so much money on gas,” said swim captain Trevor Ence.