KINGSPORT — City staff are recommending the Meadowview area of town — a 10-acre site behind the driving range on Wilcox Drive — be home to a proposed $12.6 million aquatics center.
Some city leaders, however, question the location and wonder whether building two pools — one indoor and another outdoor — at two locations in town would be a better option.
City leaders have discussed replacing the aging Legion Pool with an aquatics center for years. For the past seven months, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen has pushed forward on the project, including it in the city’s capital improvement plan to update a 2002 study of the Legion Pool.
In December, the Kingsport Parks and Recreation Department and its advisory committee recommended a $12.6 million indoor/outdoor option, which includes two indoor pools (25 yard by 50 meter lap pool and a four-lane warm pool) and two outdoor pools (an activity pool with two slides and a zero-depth children’s water area).
In March, city leaders mentioned that discussions had taken place between the city and the YMCA about co-locating their two new facilities together. The idea being instead of each entity building a pool, why not build one pool facility and share?
At that time, city staff recommended the facility be built in the Meadowview area of town, possibly along Wilcox Drive, on a 10-acre site in order to accommodate both facilities.
However, at that time some BMA members balked at the location and sought alternative sites.
On Monday, city staff returned with a site analysis study of the top three sites — Meadowview, the current Legion Pool site and Supermarket Row in downtown Kingsport.
“Our objective is to meet the needs of our citizens, as well as the greater Kingsport community,” said Chris McCartt, assistant to the city manager, who gave the presentation.
McCartt said city staff looked at about 20 sites within the city and narrowed the list down using such criteria as accessibility, visibility, traffic impact, the potential for expansion, the cost to develop, the environmental impact and proximity to other amenities. The size also had to be 10 to 15 acres.
McCartt said while the Legion Pool site would have good access, be property owned by the city and be in walking distance from the surrounding neighborhoods, it probably would not include a fitness facility or outdoor component. In addition, an aquatics center on that site could have an impact on Dobyns-Bennett High School and the Civic Auditorium.
Director of Schools Richard Kitzmiller said an aquatics center would have an impact on traffic flow, and he imagines the area being congested at times.
As for Supermarket Row along Sullivan Street, McCartt said an aquatics center would be a good family attraction for downtown, would fit on the property and would be centrally located. However, the cost to assemble the property would be around $3 million, and the existing land use is not suitable for an outdoor pool.
Meadowview is the recommended site by city staff, McCartt said. The property provides land for expansion, is accessible, would be a regional draw, and would provide natural surroundings. City Manager John Campbell said Eastman Chemical Co. officials have told city staff there is 12 acres behind the driving range the company would be willing to donate for the aquatics center, with another two to five acres Eastman would be willing to discuss further.
The downside of the Meadowview area is the wetlands mitigation process, the site is removed from the center of town, and it would not accommodate walking or biking as well as the other locations.
All three sites would have to have prep work done prior to construction — relocating utilities along Supermarket Row, resolving the leaking problem at Legion Pool and mitigating some wetlands in Meadowview.
City staff were looking for a nod around the table from city leaders that the project should move forward — selecting an architect and engineer to being preliminary design, talking with Eastman about the property, and having conversations regarding mitigation.
However, what they got was an hour-long discussion about the three sites and options on the project.
“The information received is a lot of new information, and there are other avenues that need to be discussed,” said Alderman Ken Marsh. “We need to receive this information and move on. I don’t think the plans we’ve seen here are the right plans.”
Vice Mayor Ben Mallicote asked Marsh what more information he needed.
“Do you want to see more sites?”
Marsh said he did not believe all three options (indoor pool, outdoor pool and fitness center) had to be together.
“Why are we looking at sites we don’t control and not considering sites we own, like Hunter Wright Stadium or the Quebecor site?” Marsh said. “Do we want to get in the business of competing with health clubs?”
Campbell said the aquatics center, first and foremost, should meet the needs of Kingsport. But if you can make it attractive from an economic development standpoint, you should do it.
Another issue raised was the Meadowview location would not be accessible for children who now walk or ride their bikes to Legion Pool. Tom Bowman, leisure services director, said a recent survey of 4,500 pool patrons found less than 3 percent walked or biked to the pool.
Marsh said there is a good case for an outdoor pool to be located somewhere and an indoor pool to be located somewhere else.
“We should consider two locations, and we shouldn’t be married to a combined facility (with the YMCA),” Marsh said.
Mallicote said the BMA discussed the situation of co-locating with the YMCA at the BMA’s retreat earlier this year.
“It may cut our operating cost in half,” he said.
“It gives us a guaranteed set of users day one and could make the difference of $100,000 to $200,000 a year in operating costs,” Campbell said.
Alderman Larry Munsey said he supports the staff’s recommendation and would need to see some evidence of how separating the two facilities would be reasonable and logical.
“Meadowview is roughly a third of the cost of the other two locations. Legion does not take its effect on D-B, and downtown is not conducive to an outdoor facility,” Munsey said.
Campbell said the city would do a further study on all three sites with more detailed cost analysis and return to the BMA in about 30 days.