During the next several weeks voters will consider two separate ballot initiatives that could provide a new swimming pool for Sitka. This Tuesday, Sitkans will vote on authorizing the city to issue $6 million in bonds to repair the Hames Center. On November 2nd, Alaskans will vote on an education bond package which includes $20 million for constructing a new multi-purpose aquatic center at Mt. Edgecumbe High School. Our community needs a new pool, and I’d like to draw attention to both proposals aimed at achieving this goal.
Over the past several years the community has discussed the best way to provide recreational facilities for Sitka. Local ballot measures being considered this Tuesday propose the city issue bonds and raise property taxes to buy, and attempt to repair, the Hames Center. The center has served Sitka well, but has severe maintenance and re-construction needs. Engineers’ reports estimate basic repairs could exceed $13 million, over twice the amount raised by the local bond measure. Necessary repairs would include new mechanical and electrical systems, new gym floor, pool refinishing, and replacing the roofing system. Earlier this year, another opportunity to fund an aquatic center became available and the State of Alaska is poised to support such a project.
During the past legislative session, I worked with colleagues to fund a new aquatic center as part of an education construction bond package being considered by voters. Separate from the local measure, the state ballot in November includes a general obligation bond for education construction. Bonding Proposition B funds $397 million in major education construction projects across Alaska. This includes funding for a Sports Arena at the University of Alaska Anchorage, Life Sciences Building at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and $20 million for a multi-purpose aquatic center in Sitka.
The aquatic center is a major investment by the State of Alaska in our community and will improve Sitka’s quality of life. The facility will enhance the educational experience of rural Alaska students attending school in Sitka. It will be available for community use, and will aide the State Troopers and the Coast Guard in public safety training.
At a time when Sitka is facing several economic challenges, bonding and raising taxes to repair an aged structure like the Hames Center should be considered very cautiously. With the state preparing to fund and operate a brand new facility, our community should carefully review how to best advance important local priorities when evaluating local ballot measures.
As Sitkans go to the polls next week I hope they’ll be aware of the important state investment included in the bond proposition on this November’s ballot.