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$8 million aquatics facility approved by Mitchell voters

Mitchell residents cast their votes during the special election for the pool on Tuesday morning at the Corn Palace. (Matt Gade/Republic)

Ryan Huber couldn’t wait to hear the result of Tuesday’s special election.

Huber, the president of the Mitchell Aquatic Club, sat waiting in the Davison County Courthouse as ballots shuffled through the electronic vote machines to hear whether the 70-member MAC and other Mitchell area swimmers would have a new pool to call home.

Mitchell voters approved the indoor aquatics facility by a 54-46 margin, with 1,440 votes in favor of the pool and 1,213 against. After hearing the result, Huber read from a prepared statement expressing gratitude for the $8.085 million aquatic facility project.

“These folks recognize the need to be proactive as a community and support endeavors that make Mitchell great,” Huber said.

With about three weeks of absentee voting that saw 699 ballots cast, a total of 2,653 of Mitchell’s 9,297 registered residents voiced their opinion about the indoor pool project that will include a 75-foot by 82-foot competitive lap pool, a 1,200-square foot leisure pool and play equipment. The new aquatic center will be attached to the Mitchell Recreation Center.

The election was fairly close, with 54 percent of voters supporting the pool. Huber anticipated a close call, but praised project supporters for their “tremendous effort.” And Huber expected a positive reaction from MAC members.

“If my phone’s any indication -- it’s absolutely blowing up -- so I’m guessing we have a lot of very happy supporters,” Huber said.

The MAC is currently practicing out of a temporary pool located in a strip mall across the street from the Recreation Center. Huber expects the temporary practice pool to last until the new complex is built, but he remains excited about the opportunity to meet with Mayor Jerry Toomey and City Administrator Stephanie Ellwein to discuss the next steps for the project.

That next step for the project, which Ellwein said could be discussed at the next City Council meeting on Dec. 21, is to send out requests for proposals to seek bids and potentially organize a committee to formalize a project plan.

The $8 million project will be funded by $4.808 million in surplus city funds and a total of $750,000 in additional community project reserves from 2013, 2014 and 2015. Other funding will come from a $500,000 loan repayment by the Mitchell Area Development Corporation and about $2 million in lease purchase obligations. Half of that $2 million will be raised by the MAC while the other half will come from an eventual 50 cent tax increase on Mitchell hotel rooms per night.

While Huber is happy with the result, opponents question the use of funding on an aquatic facility.

Steve Sibson, who helped gather the 460 signatures required to put the approved resolution on the ballot after the funding proposal was passed by the council in a 5-3 vote, said those who voted in favor of the project will have a moral dilemma after burdening the opponents with the $8 million project.

“The 1,440 that voted in favor have to deal with the moral issue of expecting people who are not in favor to help pay for something that they don’t want to pay for themselves,” Sibson said.

Of the total 2,653 votes -- a turnout which surpassed June’s mayoral, City Council and school board election by 23 ballots -- only Ward 2 voters opposed the project. Both Ward 2 City Council members at the time of the pool vote, Dave Tronnes and former Councilman Randy Doescher, also opposed the project.

Another opponent of the pool, who spoke out against the project in a November public forum, accepted the final decision.

“I’m concerned about the costs to the city of Mitchell and the taxpayers, but if the taxpayers don’t care, then I’m fine with it,” Ed Potzler said. “I just want the best pool we can get.”

Potzler said he completed the goal he had when beginning his opposition of the pool. Potzler wanted to offer the taxpayers a chance to have the final say on the project, and the taxpayers showed their support.

But Potzler called the current pre-design of the facility “unusable,” and hopes swimmers who don’t belong to the MAC will have the opportunity to share their opinions on the final design.

Voters weigh in

Mitchell residents cycled in and out of the Corn Palace from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday to cast their ballots, and the majority willing to share their opinion with The Daily Republic were overly supportive of the $8 million project.

Dakota Wesleyan University Golf Coach Chris Gomez highlighted the positive benefits the pools could have for physical exercise, including water aerobics. Gomez said aquatic exercise is more lenient on the joints than jogging or even walking.

Mindy Miller, a Mitchell resident of eight years, also voted in support of the project. Miller said projects like the aquatic facility help keep Mitchell moving forward.

“I don’t want to live in a stagnant community,” Miller said. “I want to live where we can see economic growth and potential for new families to move here.”

Kathy Kramer, a retired Mitchell Middle School teacher, agreed that the city needs to remain progressive.

“We want our young people to stay in Mitchell and we want them to enjoy this community, and they want to be here, too,” Kramer said.

The special election also attracted some of Mitchell’s youngest voters. Myles Szabo, an 18-year-old Mitchell High School student, went to the polls in support of the project that he believes will advance Mitchell’s economy.

Szabo, who is not a member of the MAC, referenced the MAC’s Winter Invite swim meet that was held over the weekend in Pierre. If the MAC is able to host its event in its hometown, Szabo said, more revenue would flow into Mitchell’s businesses, and Huber agreed.

Huber said the meet in Pierre attracted 280 swimmers, swimmers he believes should be coming to Mitchell for MAC-hosted meets rather than Pierre, Huron or Sioux Falls. And Huber said swimmers enjoy MAC events.

“I think when it’s all said and done, everybody loves a Mitchell Aquatic Club meet,” Huber said.

But some Mitchell residents weren’t so excited about the idea of an $8 million facility.

Longtime Mitchell resident Lori Thomas didn’t oppose the idea of an indoor pool project, but she questioned whether now is the right time. Thomas said the city needs to consider its needs at City Hall and infrastructure projects before diving into the pool project.

“I would like to see an indoor pool one day, but not affiliated with the Rec Center and not on that end of town,” Thomas said.

Barbara Einsel, who also voted “no” on Tuesday, agreed with Thomas that it’s not the right project for Mitchell to consider at this time. Einsel also questioned why the city spent $4.1 million in 2006 on the Mitchell Aquatic Center at Hitchcock Park, another project she believed was completed with the aquatic club in mind.

Despite the opposition, Huber remains confident the city will benefit from the approved facility.

“In the end of the day, nice communities have nice things, right?” he said.

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