Winamac Park Board Decides to Stop Pursuing Pool Project

Rendering of rebuilt Winamac pool.

Winamac’s swimming pool rebuilding effort appears to have come to an end. The town council narrowly decided Wednesday not to proceed with the project until the town has the money to support the ongoing maintenance of the pool. Without the town council’s financial support, the park board followed suit Thursday, voting to stop work on the project.

Board member Chris Schramm said that while he’d like to see a pool get built, he doesn’t want to bankrupt the town, either. “We asked the town board members if they could afford to pay for it, and by majority, they said no,” he said. “So I’m not saying this would never happen. I’m not. That’s why I wanted the option to table it later, but they told us, by majority – I want to say that again – that they couldn’t afford to pay for it. So why should we go forward with that if they said no?”

But by voting not to proceed with the project, the park board has created some uncertainty about what will happen to the $135,000 raised so far in private donations. That money is currently sitting in a fund at the Community Foundation of Pulaski County, with the stipulation that the pool has to be built by the end of 2020.

However, the specific language of the agreement was a topic of discussion Thursday. It states, “This agreement shall terminate December 31, 2020 or when the park board or sponsor determines that the objectives can no longer be reasonably accomplished by the sponsor.” Board members understood that to mean that the funding agreement ended when they voted not to continue with the project.

The money in the fund cannot be returned to donors. Instead, it would be up to the community foundation’s board of directors to allocate as it sees fit, along with another $150,000 that had been pledged by the town council. It is believed the foundation would be willing to let the money stay with the town, especially it could come up with a project that would create recreational opportunities for children.

Park Board President Courtney Poor cast the lone dissenting vote against the measure to stop the project. “I understand fiscal responsibility,” he said. “I also believe in dreams. What do I mean by that? If the town can’t do it, what happens if we find another organization that can? Can we have the $150,000 that the town wants to put into it, if it’s not a town pool? That’s one question for me.”

But an outside organization would not have access to Land and Water Conservation Fund grants that are available to the park board. It would also have to pay for ongoing pool maintenance.

While the town council previously thought Winamac’s budget could support the pool, an unanticipated drop in local income tax revenues has put a big hole in next year’s budget. Still, Poor questioned council members’ handling of the pool project. “I understand your shortfalls, but what you’re saying is even with the shortfalls, when they come back, and those shortfalls are no longer there, you still can’t afford to maintain the pool. Why did you commit the $150,000 to begin with? That’s my question, to which I’m certain there is no answer.” But town officials say it may be several years before the budget will return to its previous levels, and even that depends on the Pulaski County Council taking action to restructure the county’s tax system.

For now, the park board plans to meet with the Winamac Pool Committee to discuss potential alternatives for the use of the money raised for the project. The park board is expected to present its plans to the community foundation board during its November 21 meeting.