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Florence to Conduct Survey on Future of Aquatic Center

The City of Florence is expected to send out a survey asking residents for input on the future of the Aquatic Center.

Public Works Director Eric Hall is drafting the survey and will deliver it to council members by August 6. They will in turn share any of their comments by August 12.

The condition of the Aquatic Center, which city officials have contended is too expensive to continue operating, will also be evaluated.

The future of the center has led to contentious meetings at the city building. Mayor Diane Whalen and other city leaders previously presented a plan for a year-round multi-purpose park area on the site, arguing that it would better serve residents than a pool that is only open for several weeks in the summer.

Fans of the Aquatic Center have appeared at recent meetings, pleading with the city to keep it open.

Hall said that those in support of keeping the center could possible be a part of the creation of the survey that will ultimately be sent to residents.

"And then I also thought it might be a good idea, since we have a very passionate group of individuals that have an interest in the Aquatic Center, to establish  a representative from this group., to work with us, and establish two to three questions that they would like to see on the survey," he said. "And (if they) have those submitted to me by August 12, we will include them in the survey."

Hall said that he hopes to have the survey completed by August 16 and ready to be mailed to 9,000 homes shortly after. The city is contracting with a company to mail it out starting August 23. The surveys will be returned to that company where answers will be tabulated and then presented to council on October 26.

Florence officials expect a 3 to 5 percent return, or between 270 and 450 respondents.

The city has more than 30,000 residents.

Everyone who receives a water bill from the city is expected to receive a survey. If a resident does not receive one, it can be picked up at the city building with proof of address.

Even then, the survey will have to be mailed back to the company rather than handed back to the city.

"We're trying to stay out of it," Hall said. "The last thing we want to be accused of is tampering with the survey."

Councilman Josh Walton asked if it was possible for people to get a survey mailed to them and then go to the city building and get another.  He suggested that  it could lead to  double votes from anyone intent on skewing the survey results. Since the survey is essentially anonymous, he asked if the company would be able to differentiate between copies of the survey and the survey itself, and Hall thought the company would be able to tell the difference.

Walton smiled, and said he thinks like a criminal, and maybe he has been in politics too long.

Mayor Whalen said that at some point they have to trust each other.

"We have to have an air of trust here on all sides," she said. "We can only do what we can do to try and maintain integrity."

Hall said the second part of his task was to see what condition the pool was in now. 

"We had the condition of the pool inspected, and inspected by the installer," Hall explained. "He said we have about 5 to 7 years of usable life left, which is right within the 10-year life expectancy of the liner."

Hall said the liner is dirty, but in good shape, and the installer recommended preventative measures, such as cleaning the liner, de-winterizing, filling the pool for 30 to 40 days, then draining it and re-winterizing.

He said that that had to be done by the end of October.

Councilman Mel Carroll asked about the cost, and was told it would be about $22,000. Carroll said he thought the city had an obligation to do just that, and keep it in good working order. He made a motion to do what the installer said to do to the pool.

But Councilwoman Dr. Julie Metzger Aubuchon said instead the council should motion to abandon the previously distributed timeline for demolition of the pool, then adopt the new current timeline until they can have more direction from the survey results, and then get the pool taken care of.  Carrol rescinded his motion, and seconded Metzger Aubuchon's motion.

Council passed the three-part motion, 6-0.

In other business, the Boone County High School Fastpitch Softball Team was honored at the beginning of the meeting, with head coach Andy Petridis and assistant coach Chad Irwin. 

Mayor Whalen read a proclamation stating the accomplishments of the team, and declared July 27 as Fastpitch Softball Team Day in the city.

Councilman Josh Walton officially handed in his resignation at the meeting. He explained that he made the decision to move his family to Pompano Beach, Fla. because he had a job waiting for him there, and his house is already under contract here.

-Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor