Kepler Pool may have seen its last cannonball, its last game of Marco Polo, its last sputtering shouts of “You splashed me!”
The 43-year-old pool was set to close for the season Saturday. Instead, a burned out pump motor prompted the gates to close unexpectedly a week early. Now officials are unsure if it will ever reopen.
Problems are bigger than just a motor. At 13 years past its life expectancy, the pool is in need of repairs that aren’t eligible for grant money, making them hard to accomplish. Beyond that, changing government regulations in recent years have put more requirements and restrictions on the table.
In June, members of the Nittany Valley Joint Recreation Authority started making the rounds to member municipalities Bellefonte and Benner, Spring and Walker townships, proposing a change. Instead of the $1 per resident appropriation the areas have turned over to the authority to run the pool for the benefit of all, authority members like Howard Long asked for something else. A $10 per household tax that would fund not only repairs and improvements to the pool, but expanded recreation opportunities for all four communities.
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Bellefonte approved the request. Benner, Spring and Walker have not yet voted on the measure. Votes are expected soon. All three must approve the tax to proceed, Long said. A decision is needed to decide what the next step will be. Will the pool be closed or not?
The questions are also not that simple. If the pool closes, what does that mean for the authority? If the tax is approved, do they go forward with the $2.4 million renovation that was originally suggested, or something else?
Representatives of each municipality met with the authority after the proposals were made to ask questions. Some were about the cost and scope of the project. The authority could take the whole pool facility, which was turned over to them from Bellefonte’s ownership in 2013, down to dirt and start from scratch for $4.2 million. The price tag is larger, but might end up more affordable because of a technicality. Instead of rehabbing an old facility not eligible for help, building a new pool and recreation area would mean that the authority could apply for grant funding for various portions of the project.
“Nothing is identified at this point,” said Long, who represents Walker Township.
They also looked at funding. The tax would generate about $219,000 a year, meaning that the authority would be seeking loans to complete the project and use the tax money to make the payments. The question is how long to stretch the payments out. A short life would finish paying it off sooner, but a longer one might free them funds for more projects in other areas, and that’s something the authority members say they think is important.
“I really feel we could use walking trails, more fields, upgrades to playgrounds,” said Buddy Johnson, of Bellefonte. “There are other things our community needs.”
They also feel people need to understand what the authority is doing so they understand how important the request is.
“What we’ve realized is that a lot of people don’t know what the authority is,” Long said.
Regardless of what is decided, Kepler will remain closed in 2015. If approved, either a renovation or replacement would mean requests for proposals going out before the end of the year, and construction happening next year, requiring the pool to be closed for that season. If it reopens, however, authority members point to success at Welch and Park Forest pools as the popular, successful models of what Kepler could become.