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Grants Pass moves forward with plans to rebuild public pool after years of sidestepping

2023 renderings of the Caveman Pool rebuild.
City of Grants Pass, OR
2023 renderings of the Caveman Pool rebuild.

For years, the city of Grants Pass has been trying to decide what to do about the aging Caveman Pool.

The public swimming pool near the center of town has been a staple in the community for 70 years. Recently, however, it has been leaking and facing issues with its boiler heating system, and the city has been trying to keep it running through the past four or five summers.

Finally, on Monday, city councilors decided in a 5-3 vote to look into financing to rebuild the pool.

This means the council is asking city staff to go through other government projects and find surplus funds that could be reallocated to renovate the pool.

Mayor Sara Bristol said a vote like this has happened a number of times before. Over her past three-and-a-half years in office, she said the pool project keeps getting sidestepped by the city.

“Every time the council takes a vote, they keep reaffirming a decision to move forward with Caveman Pool,” she said. “And yet, every time we have a meeting, it seems like there’s something new to just slow it down a little bit.”

One recent distraction included negotiating with the Grants Pass family YMCA to build a second YMCA location across town. The YMCA also runs the Caveman Pool, which is owned by the city.

Since the city doesn’t expect the YMCA project to move quickly, Bristol said it is a good time to focus on the Caveman Pool.

The council took steps to add the pool to the city’s urban renewal area in 2022, directing an additional $5 million in urban renewal funds to the project. The council has been consistently trying to locate money to move the project forward, and has identified around $7 million in possible funds that can be used, Bristol said.

She estimated the project will cost around $10-11 million, meaning around $3-4 million still needs to be located. Some estimates for total costs are much higher.

One big source of funding is the city’s ARPA money, or federal COVID relief funds. Grants Pass received around $9.4 million in ARPA funds and of that, $3.3 million has been used. Bristol said the rest of the money needs to be spent before the end of 2026, some of which could be used for the pool renovation.

The division between the city councilors who voted to examine other project funds and those who voted against it stems from different beliefs about how much money the city should spend to remodel the pool, Bristol said.

“There’s a couple of different lines of thought,” she said. “One being: Let’s scale back and do what we can with the funds that we have already identified. And the other line of thought is ‘let’s look at getting the pool we want.’ And do we have funding?”

The recent vote by the city council affirms the latter.

However, the process of looking into other projects isn’t a “rob Peter to pay Paul situation,” Bristol said. It will involve pulling earmarked funds from other areas, such as $3 million that was originally meant for an innovation hub at Rogue Community College. The money has been sitting for at least eight years, and the innovation hub project dissolved before the pandemic.

One suggestion for raising funds was voting to pass a bond. Bristol said the council is not considering a bond at this time, in light of the July 1 decision to search for intra-government funding options.

Right now, the process of designing the new Caveman Pool is ongoing alongside discussions about the project’s budget. Plans for the renovation from 2023 can be found here.

Bristol said the city will likely reconvene before the end of summer to discuss the project’s next steps.

James is JPR's 2024 Charles Snowden intern. A recent graduate from Oregon State University, he was the city editor of OSU’s student-led publication, the Daily Barometer and he hosted a radio show on KBVR FM.