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Artesians have a little over a year to get swimsuit ready: The Artesia Aquatic Center is on its way.

The Artesia City Council approved a Memorandum of Understanding Tuesday with the Artesia Aquatic Center Foundation (AACF), joining a public-private partnership that will now officially move forward in earnest with plans to develop a public pool complex.

The complex will consist of an outdoor recreational pool that will feature – in true Artesia fashion – a large pool in the shape of the Bulldog logo and a smaller, separate pool for toddlers. An adjacent structure will house a lane pool that will provide a new home for the Artesia High School swim team and a lap swim option for the public, as well as a therapy pool for medical purposes.

The facility’s proposed location is off of Bowman Drive southwest of Park Junior High School, and the AACF says it hopes to have at least the outdoor rec pool open for public use by May 2019.

The construction and operation of the complex will be a joint effort between the City of Artesia, Artesia Public Schools, Artesia General Hospital, and private citizens through the AACF.

Three of the citizens involved in the AACF addressed the council following the 5-1 vote to approve the MOU.

“I’m really excited about this project,” said Peyton Yates. “All you have to do is to meet the new people that are moving into the community, for example, all the EOG engineers, geologists, etc., and there’s a lot of them that have moved in with kids.

“One of the first things they ask – they want to know about the schools, they like the community as a whole, and of course, they all look for a place to live, but the other thing that comes up without a doubt is recreation for their kids. People make these decisions about the community, and they can maybe live in Carlsbad or Roswell. I think it’s very important in order to sell the community and make Artesia what it is – a great place to live – that we’re going to have amenities like this.”

“As a parent and as a citizen of Artesia, I see the importance of this project and how it will benefit our youth,” said AACF President Sandra Borges.

“I kind of got involved in this project after our Scout Master at church told me he’s over a Cub Scout pack, and out of 80 Cub Scouts, 40 of them couldn’t swim,” said Johnny Knorr. “They’re not teaching Artesia kids a life skill because we don’t have anyplace to do that, so I appreciate you guys’ support, and hopefully, with everybody’s cooperation, we can get this whole thing done.

“And like y’all have said, this is Artesia – we will get it done.”

The measure didn’t pass without debate amongst the council.

Councilor Bill Rogers clarified the only portion of the complex the city is obligated to operate is the outdoor recreation area and inquired as to costs, which will impact not the current budget but that of the second half of 2018-19.

The city will be responsible for the infrastructure, operation and maintenance of the recreation area, and Burch told the council the contractor’s early estimate is $1.5 million. Taking into consideration possible needed adjustments, the mayor said “there does not appear to be any way” the cost would exceed $2 million.

As for the annual maintenance and operational costs, Burch said the estimate is around $360,000 per year.

“And that is pure expense projection,” the mayor said. “It is not offset at all by any number as far as revenue is concerned, so that number could only go down depending on the revenue generated by the pool.”

Mayor Pro-Tem Terry Hill said that while he understood the need, he could personally not reconcile with the cost.

“I would love to see the City of Artesia have a swimming pool – I would dearly love to see it,” Hill said. “But when I consider this, I still feel the sting of recently having to reduce the wages on city employees. The economy, I’m optimistic about it. But at this point, we have, for the last couple of budgets, been unable to replace equipment, mowers, vehicles, things of that nature, and we’ve struggled with that.

“What we on the Budget Committee looked at and discussed the other night is we need to kind of remain conservative at this point while trying to still stay progressive; but how much of a strain would going into this MOU at this point put on not only the budget, when it does kick in, but this isn’t going to be just for the next budget, this is going to be for the lifetime of that facility: 20 to 30 years.”

Burch responded that all members of the council remember the “trauma” the city endured with budget cuts and wage reductions but all indications are that the economy – and, thus, city coffers – are recovering.

“Our last few months of gross receipts checks have been very positive, and it’s setting a positive trend,” Burch said. “I think there’s a number of us that share your concern; however, the community four years ago had to adjust to having no pool at all. And we got through that. We started three years ago with a plan to do what we’re considering tonight, and that’s when the economy really started to lag. There was just no way we could even consider it.

“In my mind, we will never have the opportunity that we have right now. We have some very generous people that say, ‘We’ll help you build this thing.’”

The other councilors present agreed.

“I’m not usually the amenities guy,” said Rogers. “I’m about as conservative as anybody in the bunch. I understand the fear of stepping out there, but I would agree with the mayor on one of the points he made exactly, and that was opportunities like this don’t come along very often.”

“We have some fine families in our community that are very generous to our community,” said Councilor Kent Bratcher, pointing out the city’s other enviable amenities, such as the Public Safety Complex, the Artesia Public Library, and Bulldog Bowl. “I want to be optimistic and think that we can do this, and it’s going to be a beautiful thing for our kids and grandkids to enjoy for years to come.”

Councilor Luis Florez said the project would take all of the various entities working together in “a spirit of mutual trust” and that while the council had no “crystal ball” to predict the future of the economy, he felt the project was well-supported.

“If we work together in this same spirit of cooperation, I don’t see anything that we can’t accomplish,” he said.

Councilor Raul Rodriguez pointed out the AHS swim teams’ Artesia Invitational Meet had just this past weekend been held in Carlsbad and that while that goodwill between rival schools was inspiring to see, the need is there for a facility of Artesia’s own.

“I think it will be a positive success,” Rodriguez said. “It’s going to take some creative cooperation on all parties to make it happen. As anything else that takes place in Artesia, it will happen. I think the challenge is going to be usage of the pool and how we make it happen, how we can reap the benefits it’s going to provide to the community, because that’s who’s going to reap the benefits is the community in its entirety.”

The mayor said the city was looking at a $2 million investment plus operating costs in a facility the total price tag of which will be just over $8 million.

“We’ll have to go a long way, and this economy is going to have to get awfully good, for us to be able to do it on our own,” Burch said.

The mayor pointed out each entity – the city for public swimming, the APS for team sports, and AGH for medical therapy – will benefit from the combined-use dressing rooms, pump rooms, etc., and said AGH staff have stated there is not a facility in Eddy County where patients can go for low-impact therapy.

“It may be a time where we have to grit our teeth and do something, but in my mind, this is one of the most positive things we could do for the health of the public in Artesia,” Burch said. “We don’t have another facility in this whole county that could do what this one will do, and I think it would be terrible if we don’t take this opportunity tonight.”

The council voted 5-1 with Hill dissenting and Councilors Jeff Youtsey and Nora Sanchez absent.

Project architect Jose Zelaya – the architect on several other projects in Artesia, including the library and museum art center – told the council communities generally see a healthy return on investment from recreational pools, with fees from daily use as well as special rentals adding up to around 40 percent of the annual costs.

Zelaya also drew laughter from the crowd by pointing out the large recreational pool would be Bulldog-shaped and “larger than Carlsbad’s and larger than Roswell’s.”

“I think there will be a lot of talk about Artesia in years to come,” he said.

Burch told the council he had discussed the project with Eddy County Manager Rick Rudometkin Monday, and a date was agreed upon for a presentation to the county commission urging their possible participation in the partnership.

“I let them know about the project, who was involved with the project, what the status was, and I indicated to them that they should be a part of this project,” Burch said. “As I mentioned earlier, there is not a facility in Eddy County that can deal with wellness issues, deal with therapy issues, and deal with patient care, and it is needed.

“Our hospital is very excited about providing that in North Eddy County, but it will certainly be open to South Eddy County folks that wanted to come up and utilize that.”

The mayor said Jaynes Corp., the contractor on the project, has tentatively set a groundbreaking date of June 1 for the complex.