Mayor’s Message: how Fircrest voted on the park bond

The voters of Fircrest spoke loud and clear on April 23 when they overwhelmingly approved the park bond to pay for a new pool and community center as well as other park improvements.

In case you haven’t seen them, here are the final numbers from the special election:

YES     1,716   79.15%

NO          452   20.85%

The final vote tally was 2,168, which was far ahead of the minimum 1,418 needed in order for the results to be validated. And a final piece of trivia: 681 ballots were submitted via the Pierce County ballot drop box at Fircrest City Hall.

As they say on TV, “but wait, there’s more!” We have promised to continue seeking grants and donations to fund this project, and I’m excited to let you know about a big achievement. The three-member delegation that represents us in the Legislature — Rep. Mari Leavitt, Rep. Christine Kilduff, and Sen. Steve O’Ban of the 28th Legislative District — helped us get a $1 million grant from the state. That’s the Legislature’s second grant for this project, and it brings the state’s total contribution to $1.75 million. We are very grateful for the strong support from our legislators, and I hope you will take a moment to share your appreciation when you see the them in the community.

On behalf of the City of Fircrest, I want to thank a number of people who contributed their time and talent to get us to this point.

First, I thank the residents who volunteered to serve on the project steering committee. This group met throughout 2018 and into mid 2019 to do a deep dive into every aspect of the pool and community center, including building design, layout, landscaping, furnishings, and the business plan. They represented a cross-section of the community, including families, seniors, the Fircrest Soccer Club, the Kiwanis Club, and more.

Second, I thank our staff and City Council members. City Manager Scott Pingel and Parks and Recreation Director Jeff Grover served as the points of contact with ARC Architects and the steering committee. Councilmember Brett Wittner served as chairman of the steering committee, and Councilmembers Blake Surina and Shannon Reynolds helped represent the Council during those in-depth discussions.

This project began five years ago when we updated the City of Fircrest’s Parks, Recreation and Open Space Plan. Since then, a lot of people have put a lot of work into developing and designing a new pool and community center that will serve future generations. Thanks to overwhelming support from voters, we are putting that plan into action.

Mayor’s Message: Pool and Recreation Center update

Mayor’s Message for the December 2018 Town Topics newsletter

When I last wrote about the pool and recreation center in the March edition, we had just hired ARC Architects and we were in the process of appointing a steering committee of Fircrest residents who volunteered to help guide the project. They’ve been very productive, and I want to share this update with you.

The City Council received valuable input from the steering committee and the architects and made some decisions in November:

  • We unanimously agreed to put a combined pool and recreation center replacement project on the ballot in April 2019. Voters will make the final decision.
  • We considered two design options for the pool, and while both versions included a “kiddie pool” we chose the design that separates it from the main pool.
  • If approved by voters, the project would be built in two phases. The pool construction would start as soon as the summer 2019 season ends, with the goal of opening the new pool in time for the 2020 season. Construction of the new recreation center would start a couple of years later.

With those decisions made, we were working at the time of this writing (in mid-November) to finalize the design and complete the cost estimates.

We are working hard to seek outside sources of funding to alleviate the burden on taxpayers. To date, we have secured a generous $1 million grant from the Edwards Family Foundation, $750,000 from the Washington Legislature for the pool replacement, and $750,000 in City of Fircrest reserves. We are working on plans to request several million dollars from other philanthropic foundations, and we plan to ask for another grant from the Legislature for the community center portion of the project.

The pool and recreation center have been the centerpiece of our community since 1962. Public surveys conducted in 2017 and 2018 both showed very strong support for taking the steps necessary to ensure we have quality facilities for community use for years to come.

The city will continue to post updated information here in the “Up-To-Date Information” area of the website.

I want to close by thanking everyone who served on the project steering committee, and everyone who took the time to take the surveys that influenced the design. This is not a City Council project. It’s a city project.

I hope all of you have an enjoyable and fulfilling holiday season.

Mayor’s Message: working on temporary and longterm solutions for the pool

Mayor’s Message for the March 2018 Town Topics newsletter

I love springtime in the Pacific Northwest. Our parks and yards feel fresh and ready for something new. (To be honest, it helps that I don’t suffer any allergies…)

The city feels that way, too. Our new city manager and new City Council have been busy setting work plans and priorities. At the top of the list is the important work of ensuring that the 1960s-era Roy H. Murphy Community Center and pool are restored and updated in a way that keeps them viable for years to come.

In recent weeks, we hired contractors to assess and repair cracks in the main water pipe that serves the pool. It’s a short-term fix that should enable us to keep the pool operating for another season or two while we work on long-term plans for the facility.

Regarding those long-term plans, I have good news to share.

First, the city hired ARC Architects to develop schematic designs. This firm specializes in recreation and community centers, and we are excited about utilizing their expertise. We also will appoint a citizen steering committee to help guide the project through 2019. If you are interested in serving on that committee, contact City Manager Scott Pingel. And if you feel you don’t have the time to offer to that committee, that’s OK. We will use a variety of means to keep you updated — including this newsletter — and seek your feedback.

There’s more good news — the Washington Legislature awarded Fircrest a $750,000 grant to help our small city rebuild the community pool. We have a lot of work to do with ARC and the community to develop the pool’s design, but this grant will help alleviate some of the cost. We are grateful to the legislators who serve the 28th District — Sen. Steve O’Ban and Reps. Christine Kilduff and Dick Muri — for sponsoring our grant application and working to make sure it was included in the state’s construction budget.

I look forward to sharing more updates throughout the year. Thank you for the opportunity to serve.

Fun Days Committee update from Dec. 2, 2015

As I first reported in August, citizens and city staff have been meeting to discuss ways to add a little more juice to Fircrest Fun Days. The Fircrest Fun Days Committee held its third meeting on Dec. 2 at the Rec Center. Given my ability to type a bazillion words a minute, I agreed to take notes and produce a report. (Thank my parents for that 10th-grade typing class.)

Eight people attended the meeting and discussed the following topics and actions:

Overall goals: more attendees, more vendors, a livelier vibe, cut down on the “dead times” during the day

Budget: The City Council added another $2,500 for 2016, so our total budget from the city is $10,000.

Sponsors: We can increase the budget if we attract sponsor businesses and organizations. We gave Parks Director Jeff Grover some ideas for developing sponsorship packages that offer benefits beyond the weekend, such as displaying their corporate banners in the gym and/or at the pool for various lengths of time, based on the level of sponsorship. He’s going to put some packages together.

Foot traffic: With the Friday night spaghetti feed by the Kiwanis Club, the swim meet on Saturday morning, the festival all day, and then the big fireworks show at night, the city estimates about 3,000 people visit during the weekend (with about half attending the fireworks show).

Vendors: We’d like more things to do, more crafts and goods, more entertainment, and a few more food vendors. It was noted that too many food vendors at a site can cause them to lose money and have a bad experience. We have to find the right balance. Also, there are so many festivals and events around the county throughout the summer that it can be tough to attract them away from other options. Jeff also will work on incentive offers for participants of the Holiday Bazaar and the Spring Craft Fair. We also talked about seeing if Pint Defiance, Wingman, Gig Harbor Brewing or another local brewery would like to host a beer garden (now that it’s legal).

Entertainment: Ideas floated at the meeting include inviting a performance by Fircrest’s Image Studio of Dance, the Tacoma Musical Playhouse or other theater groups, the Blues Brothers tribute band, a pie eating contest, Hunter’s friend who juggles flaming torches, Elisabeth’s friend who is a comedian, a square dance or some other type of dance (indoors or outdoors), the World’s Shortest Triathalon (swim in the pool, ride a tricycle around the park, and a short run), a giant water balloon fight (I admit it, this is my idea…), a gigantic community Bunko or Bingo game, a night swim at the pool, pony rides, inflatable bouncy structures. Another option is to see if Click! or another sponsor will host a movie-in the-park on Friday night.

We talked about branding the entertainment in the style of the Major Bowes Amateur Radio Hour in honor of the investor who helped found Fircrest before going on to create one of the most popular radio programs of the mid 1900s.

Suggested run-of-show: After three meetings with lots of brainstorming and brownies, the group developed this working lineup for the 2-day event.

  • Friday night: Kiwanis Club’s spaghetti dinner, Bingo, a movie in the park (remember, it’s summer, so it doesn’t get dark until after 9), beer garden, night swim, plus the craft vendors and activities.
  • Saturday: Kiwanis Club’s pancake breakfast, swim meet (which drew hundreds of people this year), entertainment for kids during the day (dance performance, karaoke, Reptile Man, etc), water-oriented field-day activities in the afternoon, World’s Shortest Triathalon?, beer garden, fireworks at 9:30. We’d like to have some featured entertainment at 5 and 7 pm.

Next steps: We divided up the research and assignments regarding sponsor packages, movie-in-the-park options, beer garden sponsor, dance performance, Bingo possibilities, theater groups. Jeff plans to produce a 2-question survey to distribute this Sunday at the tree lighting ceremony as well as other events this winter so we can keep collecting community ideas.

The committee’s next meeting is 7 pm on Jan. 6. We’d love more help. Feel free to share any ideas on the Fun Days Committee Facebook page!

Rec Center and pool feasibility study set to get started

On Nov. 16, the Fircrest City Council voted to approve a contract with ARC Architects to assess the condition of the Roy H. Murphy Recreation Center building and pool, and offer options for renovation or possibly replacement.

Background: The building and pool were constructed in the 1960s. The pool got an update in the 1990s thanks to voter approval of a park bond. Among other things, that bond paid for a liner that was supposed to last 10 years. We are now on year 18 or so.

In 2014, we approved something known in government circles as a PROS plan, which stands for Parks, Recreation and Open Space (scroll down this page to find links to it). Some of you will recall we had a couple of open houses and recorded lots of ideas for every one of our parks, which cover 27 acres over six sites. That plan didn’t address the future of the Rec Center and pool because that consultant was hired to help us craft an overall plan that serves as the foundation for grant requests and capital needs. The first priority identified in the PROS plan is to hire engineers and architects to assess the current building.

Which brings us to this update. As I reported, we approved a contract with ARC, which will provide concepts for building renovation, expansion or replacement. In turn, ARC has assembled the following team to supplement the architectural work:

  • Bruce Dees and Associates, landscape architecture.
  • AHBL, Civil Engineering: Reporting on utilities and drainage.
  • GeoEngineers, geotechnical study: This group will offer findings from two borings – one 15 feet depth and the other to 30 feet. The deeper boring will include a monitoring well to evaluate ground water fluctuations.
  • Counsilman Hunsaker, aquatic design consultant: Analysis and recommendations for existing pool design, liner and equipment, plus recommendations on additional aquatic features.
  • PCS Structural Solutions, structural engineering: Review of the existing building, including seismic capability, and recommendations for the renovation and addition options.
  • Interface, mechanical engineering: Review of mechanical and plumbing systems.
  • Travis Fitzmaurice, electrical engineering: Review of the building’s electrical systems.
  • DCW Cost Management: architectural and structural cost estimates for the renovation and addition options.

ARC was selected through a competitive bidding process by a committee consisting of a few councilmembers (I wasn’t on it) and city staff. The combined experience of this architecture and engineering team includes work on Rainier Beach Community Center and Pool in Seattle, Rosehill Community Center in Mukilteo, and STAR Center in Tacoma, among others. Also, Metro Parks (my employer) has hired ARC and Bruce Dees for the first phase of the proposed Eastside Community Center in Tacoma. In my limited experience with both companies (I’ve only worked at Metro Parks four months), both companies have been thorough and excellent.

This feasibility study will cost $104,000, which will come from one of our reserve funds. We’ve been holding the money for this project. The vote to approve the contract was 6-1, with Councilmember Jolibois the only vote against it.

You will play an important role in this project. The scope of work includes forming a steering committee and holding at least two public meetings. We want Fircrest residents to see the renovation, expansion and replacement options that are presented and tell us how you feel about them. We just hired the team this week, so I’ll share details about the public engagement as soon as they are set.

Updates on liquor regs, the 2016 budget, and the Rec Center feasibility study

It’s been a busy fall for the Fircrest City Council, so here are updates on several items of popular interest:

LIQUOR: Voters will decide on Nov. 3 whether to lift the prohibition on serving liquor-by-the-glass in the central business districts. The Planning Commission, a volunteer panel of citizens, has developed draft zoning regulations for the City Council’s consideration if/when voters approve the measure. The City Council has scheduled a public hearing on the matter for Nov. 24 at 7 p.m.

BUDGET: After five public meetings in October, we are still on track to adopt the 2016 budget on Nov. 10. As I’ve previously reported, the $22 million budget is in excellent shape, with all bills covered, healthy reserves, plenty of available cash flow, and enough left over to manage some capital needs. There’s a list of final decisions to be made at that meeting. I have put two items on that list for consideration by the full Council:

  • Police: I’ve been working with city staff and the mayor to identify whether we have enough sustainable funding to restore a position in the Police Department that was cut as the Great Recession hit (several years before I joined the Council). We currently have nine officers providing 24/7 protection. Chief John Cheesman has shown me how much more coverage he can provide if that position is restored, and we both believe that will cut down on vehicle prowls and other property crimes. There appears to be enough funding available in the 2016 budget, but we don’t want to add it unless we’re sure we can carry it forward for years to come. That’s why I worked with the chief last week on a Plan B: If we’re not confident there’s enough funding to restore a permanent position yet, I will propose using that available 2016 funding for emphasis patrols (paying our current staff overtime to provide more coverage). We actually use very little overtime, so we believe the officers will appreciate the opportunity to earn extra income.
  • Fircrest Fun Days: A citizen committee has been meeting to figure out ways to give a boost to Fun Days, the annual weekend festival in August that has seen declining interest by vendors. The city only spent $7,500 on this year’s festival. I’m proposing a boost – up to an additional $2,500, depending on other decisions made in the budget – so the city can consider adding more activities and show vendors and sponsors that we’re committed to maintaining a quality event.
  • Other items to be determined include the purchase of a new street sweeper (our current sweeper is getting harder and harder to repair because it’s no longer made and we can’t locate parts), and purchasing two new police cars, among other things.

POOL/REC CENTER: Last year, we adopted a Parks, Recreation and Open Space (PROS) plan, which contained a wish list of every improvement that a committee of citizens could think of for our parks over the next 20 years. It doesn’t mean we’ll do all of those things, but we aren’t eligible for grants unless we have such a plan, which you can find here. The plan also recommended hiring an expert to evaluate the condition of the pool and the Roy H. Murphy Recreation Center, and to offer options for improvements. The city is in the final stages of negotiating a contract with a highly regarded consultant, and the process will include public hearings to find out what you think. That’ll happen in the coming months, so stay tuned for more information soon.

Where we’ve been, and where we’re going

League of Women Voters asks about economic development, open government, building consensus, and more

The League of Women Voters has an extraordinary history — forming in 1920 as advocates were making the final push to ratify the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, finally giving women the right to vote. The nonpartisan League has been providing valuable information to voters ever since.

My opponent Heather and I both filled out the League’s candidate questionnaire. It’s a generic one designed for all cities, but it still shows some big differences between us.

League of Women Voters logo

League of Women Voters

Once again, Heather offers happy thoughts but no actual plans. She also takes a couple of strange, ill-informed shots at me. The League’s candidate guide is available at www.vote411.org. You have to drill in by street address, which is handy because you can see our answers side-by-side. I plugged in the address for City Hall and provide the link here. Or, here’s a link to Heather’s answers, and mine are pasted below.

Continue reading

A banner year at the pool – plus bonus days

Operating a pool is a weather-dependent enterprise, of course. So it should be no surprise that our warm and dry summer led to a busy season at our city pool.

Even with the cool, wet weather at the end of summer, the city has earned about $7,200 more in revenue than in 2014. Here are some other comparisons to last year from the weekly report we receive from the Parks and Recreation Department:

  • General admissions: Increase of 1,030
  • Memberships sold: Increase of 41
  • Membership revenue: Increase of $1,760
  • Punch cards: Increase of $720
  • Admission revenue: Increase of $3,665

Bonus Days: Many of you know that I advocated a few years ago to extend the pool season by a few weekends. I know we all get busy once school and sports seasons get going, but it always seemed weird to me that we open on Memorial Day weekend, when it’s often too cold to enjoy an outdoor pool, but then we close on Labor Day, when it’s (usually) still quite warm. The Council and staff agreed to my proposal to keep the pool open a couple of weekends into September during the past two years.

They’re doing it again this year, though we’ll just extend the season by one extra weekend this year. So the pool will close for the season on Sept. 13.

As always, thanks to our great group of lifeguards and staff who work hard to make it a fun place to spend a summer day.

The City Council moves a meeting to the Rec Center (no, that doesn’t mean we’ll wear bathing suits)

About a year ago, I stopped by the pool one Tuesday evening to watch my son at his swim lesson. There were dozens of people there, and I enjoyed lots of great conversations with various folks.

Then I dashed across town to City Hall for a City Council meeting. Besides a handful of city staff members, I think there were two members of the public in attendance.

That got me thinking … dozens of our residents are at the pool and Rec Center on any given Tuesday evening during the summer. Why don’t we bring local government to them? I pitched that to the Council and staff last year, and all agreed to host a meeting in the gym on Tuesday night last August. To be honest, there still wasn’t a big crowd at our meeting, but that was also the first time we’ve done it. If we make it a regular gig, perhaps more people will stick their heads in the room and see what we’re up to. I like that we’re at least making it easier.

Last week, the Council agreed to do it again this summer. The City Council will host a regular Council meeting at the Rec Center on Tuesday, Aug. 11, at 7 p.m. If you’re going to be around that evening, I hope you’ll drop by and see what your local leaders are working on.