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Pendleton Swim Association pitches dome concept to city council

Antonio Sierra

East Oregonian

Published on November 15, 2017 7:34PM

Pendleton’s Nolan Hill dives in during the 2009 5A state swimming championships at Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham. The college uses an inflatable dome to surround the pool during the winter, and Pendleton is considering the feasibility of a similar dome at the Pendleton Aquatic Center.

Photo by Matthew Ginn/Trillium Media Services

Pendleton’s Nolan Hill dives in during the 2009 5A state swimming championships at Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham. The college uses an inflatable dome to surround the pool during the winter, and Pendleton is considering the feasibility of a similar dome at the Pendleton Aquatic Center.


The organizers behind the Pendleton Swim Association considered their options to find a new pool and decided there’s no place like dome.

Tony Nelson, the coach for the swim association and the Pendleton High School swim team, and association president Fred Robinson went before the council at a workshop Tuesday and asked them if they would be open to erecting an inflatable dome over the Pendleton Aquatic Center pool that would allow for year-round swimming. It could cost as much as $1 million to do so.

The men made their case ahead of the swim teams’ main facility — the Blue Mountain Community College pool — scheduled closure in June. Mayor John Turner, a former BMCC president, said his discussions with college staff show there’s little desire to extend the pool’s life after the deadline, especially considering the millions of dollars it would take to renovate the facility.

Nelson and Robinson said their programs could end if the pool closed and no replacement was found.

“Without water, we’re potentially without a program,” Robinson said.

Nelson, who is also a lieutenant for the Pendleton Police Department, said his teams range from 30-40 participants in the winter to 80-100 in the summer. If teams were to go away, Robinson said it would take away an athletic avenue for students who might not fit in other school sports.

Nelson said there’s only a handful of 50-meter pools in the Northwest like the Pendleton Aquatic Center. One of them is at Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham, a facility that hosts the Oregon School Activities Association swimming championships each year — under a dome.

With a similar inflatable dome in Pendleton, the aquatic center would be covered during the colder months and uncovered during the summer.

Acquiring and installing the dome wouldn’t come cheap — $800,000 to $1 million, including improvements to the pool deck and pool house, according to Robinson’s estimate. Robinson and Nelson said that the swim association would attempt to cover that cost.

But buying and setting up the dome wouldn’t be the only expense involved. Robinson estimated it would cost $17,000 per month to run the pool from October to May, when it is usually drained. That figure doesn’t include the additional labor needed to maintain a pool year-round.

City officials seemed supportive of the project but did not seem eager to commit general fund money to operate it.

With the city already saddled with $3.7 million in deferred maintenance, City Manager Robb Corbett didn’t like the idea of adding another six-figure cost to facility maintenance.

“When I look at a number like that, it just means we’re getting further and further down the hole,” he said.

Turner called pools “money-sucking pigs,” and other council members warned Nelson and Robinson about the high cost to run it.

“It looks expensive,” Councilor Neil Brown said. “We can’t even fix potholes.”

The duo assured the council that it was their goal to make the domed pool self-sustaining. The aquatic center hosted two popular swim meets during the summer and could host more with a covered pool. Additionally, it could open up more revenue opportunities like year-round swimming lessons, physical therapy and private rentals.

Although the group now has the blessing of the council to move forward with the project, the association still has some tall tasks ahead of it.

In an interview after the meeting, Robinson said the swimming association can now make specific plans on how to raise money for the dome.

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Contact Antonio Sierra at asierra@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0836.



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