By Gerhard Schneibel

gerhard@reporternewspapers.net

The steering committee charged with drafting a master plan for Hammond Park recently came to some consensus about an overall design but stumbled over the unknown operating costs of a planned aquatic facility.

Mayor Eva Galambos told Leadership Sandy Springs alumni Jan. 26 the park is a “21st-century dream. It’s got every whistle you can think of. The problem is, it comes with a $44 million price tag. I don’t see how this council is going to be able to figure out how we are going to finance $44 million.”

The steering committee for the park selected an aquatic facility with a 10-lane competition pool, three diving boards and spectator seating, plus an approximately 5,300-square-foot “leisure pool” area that would include space for water aerobics, a lazy river with a current for resistance walking, a zero-depth-entry area, a play place for children and a water slide.

Committee member George Ways said the selected facility would cost at least a half-million dollars a year in utilities. Instead, he wants the city to build an Olympic-size pool and a second lap pool “geared more towards younger kids” instead of the leisure area.

That would attract private clubs like Chamblee-based Dynamo Swim Club, he said.

“Sandy Springs could, at the very least, outsource it 100 percent, walk away and never have any liability in terms of financials associated with the center. They’d never get a water bill, a gas bill, an electric bill,” Ways said. “I’m talking about building a facility that people will use every day. Are you going to take your child to a water park every day after school? When they’ve gone down the single slide, and they’ve done that five times, are they going to do that every day for the rest of their lives?”

Dis. 4 Councilwoman Ashley Jenkins said the steering committee contracted Jan. 28 with the Atlanta branch of San Francisco-based EDAW to conduct a five-week operating-cost analysis. EDAW designed the master plan for the park overhaul. The aquatic facility is expected to cost $12.9 million.

“Certainly the council would not move forward without knowing what operating costs would be involved,” Jenkins said. “George is the middleman for Dynamo. … This has nothing to do with what’s best for the community.”

Ways has worked in finance since 1975. He was president of Dynamo Swim Club for two years during the mid-1990s, a period when the organization opened an aquatic facility in Alpharetta. He said he doesn’t currently represent Dynamo.

“I just happen to know how the economics work,” he said. “I simply know the numbers from my experience with Dynamo — and I’ve updated them.”

The steering committee became convinced a leisure pool is a good idea after a presentation from Beaver Dam, Wis.-based Water Technologies, Ways said. The company has built similar pools in Gwinnett County and for the Westminster Schools.

There was “no mention in the conversation that these things lose money” until the issue came to a vote, he said. “All of a sudden, it was all backpedaling and justification.”

Jenkins said the city subsidizes all recreation services, so there’s no expectation that the aquatic facility would be self-supporting.

According to Ways, about 8,000 youths are enrolled in competitive swimming in Georgia, 80 percent of them in the Atlanta area. Swim clubs beyond Dynamo could break even operating the swim center under his plan, he said, but not the selected plan.

Swim clubs “understand how to generate the revenue. They know how to market it, and they know how to get people interested in it. That’s what they do,” he said.

Chris Lowe, whose daughter is a freshman on the swim team at Riverwood International Charter School and whose son used to be on the team, said driving to the Marist School in Brookhaven to practice is time-consuming.

“If we had a pool right down the street, they could swim and be home in time for dinner,” she said.

Still, “I think having an aquatic center where you have a competitive pool but also some place where you can bring your kids just to have fun is important,” she said.

If a club operated the pool, Lowe said, “they could run it however they wanted. There could be nothing out there for … the community.”