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Aquatics center proposal taking on water

by DERRICK PERKINS
Daily Inter Lake | February 15, 2022 7:00 AM

An effort to erect an aquatics center in Libby seems headed toward its swan song, though supporters plan to continue working on the project.

Tony Petrusha, who has served as a spokesman for the group behind the proposed project, gave Libby City Council a bleak assessment of the center’s future on Feb. 7.

“I would say that it’s on life support,” he said. “Maybe a [do not resuscitate order] is attached to it.”

Though the Kootenai Wellness Aquatics Center (KWAC) committee met four times in 2021, Petrusha said the group faces the same problem it did when plans for the facility were first unveiled in 2019. Namely, convincing voters to cover annual overhead costs.

“It’s still going to come back to taxpayer funded operations and maintenance and that’s not a very likely outcome,” Petrusha said.

From the start, supporters of the aquatics center have said that private donations would fund construction of any facility. Members of the committee developed several iterations of plans in 2019, eventually settling on a $12.6 million design. In early 2020, the group planned to put the tax question on the spring ballot and launch a major campaign to sway voters.

Then the pandemic hit and the resultant economic effects rolled through Lincoln County.

The tax issue never made the ballot. At the time, Petrusha said asking voters for money during the COVID-19 recession seemed a bridge too far. But he expressed hope they could regroup and take another shot in the future.

In October, Petrusha, who also serves as Libby’s parks manager, told city councilors that after a hiatus, the committee had reconvened. Acknowledging that challenges had mounted, Petrusha said the reformed membership had voted to keep the effort alive.

Last week, Petrusha said the group planned to reach out to the business community to gauge support for the project.

“At this time, we’d like to meet with business leaders and get input,” he said. “We want to see how that looks and if it looks any different.”