The South Oxnard Aquatics Center moved closer to its planned summer 2025 completion after a vote of the City Council Tuesday.
The council approved a conceptual design in a 6-1 vote for the nearly $60 million aquatics center that includes a 50-meter competition swimming pool, instructional and recreational swimming pools, a lazy river, water slides and a splash pad.
Councilman Bert Perello, the lone dissenter, said Friday the higher-than-expected cost prevented him from supporting the project, noting it could negatively impact future projects, such as a new fire station and senior center.
The project had also shifted away from its original goal of teaching the community how to swim, he add.
“Now we’re going to start gearing towards competitions instead of learning how to swim?” Perello asked.
With the approval, the city will seek permits and continue the design process through next year for the facility, according to city documents. The project will next go to the council for construction bid approval before the start of construction in fall 2023. Construction of the facility near Oxnard College is expected to finish in July 2025.
ELS Architecture and Urban Design, contracted by the city for about $4 million, presented seven conceptual designs Tuesday, ranging from about $50 million to $67 million.
One plan incorporated residents’ wish-list of programs and amenities requested at community outreach meetings. But the $67 million price tag led staff to recommend an approximately $54 million design.
However, that option shrunk the size of the competition pool from 50 to 30 meters. The council ultimately chose a $60 million design, which retained the 50-meter pool, after residents said the smaller pool wasn’t ideal for competitive swimming.
“If you want to swim professionally, and they do that at 50 meters, then we need a 50-meter pool,” Mayor Pro Tem Bryan A. MacDonald said Tuesday. “If we’re going to train people to be competitive, I think we should train them in the appropriate arena.”
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The aquatics center will also host water polo and swim competitions, swim lessons, water aerobics and summer camps.
The design omits a few requested features such as a fountain, picnic area and office space.
While not the most expensive option, the design is still $20 million higher than the original estimate.
The project achieved its first milestone in July 2021, when the city received a $5 million grant from the state to kickstart the design process. At the time, city staff estimated the aquatics center to cost about $40 million.
Ashley Golden, assistant city manager, said Wednesday that inflation, supply-chain issues and labor shortages drove up costs. Additionally, she said the early estimate used data from aquatics centers throughout the state where construction began before the pandemic.
The city will continue to seek grants and bond the remaining costs to spread out the expenses over multiple generations, Golden said. She said the city’s current capital improvement program budget already anticipates at least $30 million in bonding to pay for the project.
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“We try to have diversity of how we’re funding things to have the best ability to advance projects in the best way for the community,” Golden said.
Resident Doug Partello criticized the cost of the aquatics center Tuesday. He said the city has other expenses, such as $323 million in pension debt it’s seeking a bond to help pay, it should focus on.
“(If) my house is leaking and my plumbing is bad and my yard is a mess, am I going to build a swimming pool in my backyard?” he asked. “No. That would be crazy.”
Other residents supported the aquatics center but spoke of the significance of a 50-meter pool.
Resident Mike Giles is the head coach for Gold Coast Water Polo Club, which practices at the Oxnard High School pool. He said Tuesday teams from around the state compete in the 50-meter pool.
Another large pool in the city could draw tourism to the area, he said.
“Oxnard has become the center where everyone wants to come,” Giles said. “We want to take advantage of having that 50-meter pool.”
Brian J. Varela covers Oxnard, Port Hueneme and Camarillo. He can be reached at [email protected] or 805-477-8014. You can also find him on Twitter @BrianVarela805.