The city of Auburn appears set not to pursue a short-term lease of the heated pool at HealthPlus after it closed shop this month in preparation for reopening in a smaller footprint at the Auburn Mall.
Over the past two City Council meetings, multiple Auburn residents who use the HealthPlus pool and other amenities lobbied the council and city to pursue a lease with EAMC.
After multiple talks between the city and EAMC officials, Auburn City Manager Jim Buston said EAMC showed interest in offering the city only a 9 to 12 month lease for the heated saltwater pool while renovations are completed on part of the now-closed HealthPlus facility that will help house some of the 12 new primary care physicians they plan to bring into the Auburn area.
Buston laid out his reasons for why he recommended that leasing the pool was not in the city's best interest.
One reason included the difficulty in making the facility ADA compliant since a new entrance would need to be created during construction.
The pool would also need repairs, Buston said. The circulation pump would need to be replaced; the boiler would need to have one burner replaced; two shut-off valves would also need replacing; and there would need to be repairs done to the circulation pump.
EAMC also said it would not supply any staffing, instructors, towels or maintenance for the pool area.
Buston said he did not have an estimate on the cost of the lease, staffing and repairs for the council.
""I did not pursue that because ... I thought many of those items were deal-breakers to begin with, so it takes some time to develop how much would it cost us to hire those people that we might need, how much would the insurance cost — all that takes a lot of time to pull together. I figure that even if the council were amendable to leasing, it would probably take us three months to ramp up with the repairs that need to be done, so if it was a nine-month lease that means it only gives us six months of pool time. If it was 12-month lease, that only gives us nine months of pool time. So I felt that pursing the cost would be after if the council decided it really wanted to lease the pool."
Buston said the city is planning on moving the design and construction of indoor and outdoor pools at Boykin Community Center into the first phase of projects on the slate from the Parks, Recreation and Culture Master Plan, and that money potentially spent on upgrading and leasing the HealthPlus pool would be better spent on moving the city's own project along. That process could take two to three years to complete.
He also noted that Opelika has agreed to raise the temperature of its pool at the Opelika SportsPlex to possibly accommodate some of the displaced HealthPlus users. as well as some of the amenities offered at Auburn University.
After the council closed discussion of the issue, multiple residents spoke during the Citizens' Open Forum to press the city to continue its efforts to persuade EAMC to make the pool available, while noting how critical the pool is to many people who rely on it for its therapeutic benefits.
"This is a very unfortunate situation," said Auburn Mayor Ron Anders. "I know that we've heard from many people that this is going to be a very difficult transition for them because they depend on this pool for primary exercise and therapy. As I've said personally, my father was a member of this club. He spent many, many hours of his later years in life being there, and he loved that place, so it's very meaningful to me. But it's owned by a private entity, the hospital, and if we would have known that this was going to happen we probably would have put the pool in phase one and got a little further out in front of this. But this has been a surprise and we're going to do the best we can to provide a facility that will accommodate these types of needs in the future."