Wellington Balancing Costs Against Amenities At New Aquatics Complex

The Wellington Village Council is wrestling with projected costs for a new aquatics complex that ballooned to $42 million three months ago, debating whether a $28 million version makes a big enough splash to meet community hopes for both recreational and competitive swimming.

The latest proposal presented by the architectural firm Ohlson Lavoie Corp. (OLC) at a council workshop Friday, Jan. 12 retains some features that impressed council members, like a moving bulkhead that reconfigures the competitive pool to host different events.

But the meeting also brought questions about the project’s overall look and feel, and particularly about the recreational pool on one side of the bifurcated complex. Some members said they were not sure the reworked plan strikes an ideal balance between affordability and pizzaz at the proposed new venue in Village Park near its 120th Avenue South entrance.

Councilman John McGovern said he did not want to cut back so far on flourishes that it resulted in a product later viewed as disappointing, a ho-hum upgrade from the current aquatics complex near the Wellington Community Center on Forest Hill Blvd.

Take the 8,000-square-foot recreational pool. Its latest iteration looks like an hourglass resting on a rectangular base. A walk-in circular area for small children flows into a rounded space with poolside basketball hoops, all connecting to a squared-off portion that can accommodate lap swimmers and classes.

“I have a concern that to me, the kids’ pool looks too small,” McGovern said. “I feel like we’ve cut the size of that back. I think we’ve taken away equipment that makes it less attractive to be used for parties and that kind of thing. That seems to me to be the very minimum we could put there.”

He remembered talk of things like a rope course or rock-climbing walls that have since evaporated. The look has become more “institutional,” McGovern said.

Vice Mayor Michael Napoleone agreed. The risk is that it comes across as “very institutional and sterile and boring,” he said.

Napoleone asked if there is a way, without breaking the budget, to “make it more resort-style versus just a concrete building with a concrete deck and two holes in the ground.”

The ripple effects of the pandemic on the availability and cost of construction materials and labor, among other factors, have made many projects significantly more expensive, even with those ripples moderating somewhat over the past year, village officials have noted.

In any event, the bottom line looks different for a project that carried a projected $22.6 million price tag less than a year ago, forcing a rethinking of what could be included.

Mayor Anne Gerwig said she likes many aspects of the revised plan, “but I think we can do better on the aesthetics.”

Village Manager Jim Barnes said a $28 million budget limits how much can be achieved with the buildings and pool sizes, but exterior surfaces are open to creativity.

Artwork can be added to fencing screens, and the color and finish of the pool deck can be discussed, he said. “There can be murals,” Barnes added.

The goal remains to come back to the council in March with revised information and possible next steps to keep the project moving, Barnes said.

The design presented Jan. 12 retains an existing berm of eight to 10 feet with trees on the south end of the property to help reduce noise to neighbors, said Sam Elsheikh, senior principal for OLC.

Parking will include 265 paved parking places with overflow grass parking for about 120 spots.

The main pool house will encompass about 7,500 square feet, including an administrative area where visitors check in before proceeding to competitive or recreational pool spaces.

The competitive pool will extend 64 meters, or about 210 feet. A moveable bulkhead allows the 10-lane pool to be reconfigured for varying distance events, such as 25 or 50 meters. It can host multiple events at the same time, from racing to diving to water polo, and even synchronized swimming.

Water temperature is designed to be kept at 78 to 82 degrees by means of cooling and heating systems. Shaded seating will hold about 416 spectators. Behind the stands will sit a strip with artificial turf — in part so grass clippings don’t get into the pool — where teams can set up tents for swimmers to gather and prepare.

The recreational pool covers 8,000 square feet and is designed to hold about 285 people. A play area for younger children starts at walk-in zero depth and offers features such as slides and geysers, and a big bucket that dumps water.

An area of greater depth includes two basketball hoops and benches for parents. Part of the pool has a cushioned floor under a liner rather than typical concrete, minimizing chances for injury, Elsheikh said.

Water temperatures in the recreational area will be set slightly higher, from 84 degrees to 86 degrees, with the idea being to make it comfortable for all ages from toddlers to seniors taking classes.

After years of discussion, the council approved the relocation and expansion of the Wellington Aquatics Complex last March. The village awarded a $1.9 million contract to Ohlson Lavoie Corp. for architectural and engineering services.

At this stage, cost has clearly emerged as a big factor in what will be built. Funding will be aided by almost $9 million from Wellington’s share of a countywide sales surtax used to pay for public projects, Deputy Village Manager Tanya Quickel told the village’s Parks & Recreation Advisory Board earlier this month.