Community Health & Wellness

Feasibility studies for aquatics, senior centers nearing completion

Posted on August 3rd, 2023 By:

PenMet Parks is close to determining whether aquatics and senior centers are in its future.

Consultants have studied since February the feasibility of such facilities. The studies looked at demand, siting, layout, activities and cost. In late June, they presented their final site and program selections for review to separate community steering committees.

Draft reports are expected to be completed this month. After receiving steering committee refinement and blessings, the documents will be presented to the parks board for feedback in September and potentially later adoption. Until then, the outcome remains indeterminate, Executive Director Ally Bujacich and Parks Services Director Denis Ryan emphasized.

“Personally, I don’t have enough data to know if they’re feasible or not,” Bujacich said. “We know what the committees’ priorities are, but we haven’t seen yet how they might be funded and operated and what the community needs and will support, so there’s still some more work to do.”

Two sites emerge

Though not final, the studies provide interesting propositions. For example, the consultants — ARC Architects — forwarded two sites on which to build both facilities — the community recreation center and Peninsula Garden properties. In grading for physical characteristics, access, location and aesthetics, the former 17.2-acre Performance Golf Center home lying between Highway 16 and 14th Avenue edged out the former 8-9-acre nursery between Wollochet and Fillmore drives. Peninsula Gardens was labeled a “reasonable second choice.”

Consultants provide this conceptual drawing of where a senior center and pool might go in the CRC complex.

Consultants deemed the CRC site more accessible. It offers potential cost savings through shared infrastructure with renovated and new CRC buildings, lends itself to interaction among the four buildings and connects to the Cushman Trail.

Four other sites were evaluated and rejected. They include property next to Heron’s Key in Gig Harbor North that’s contemplated for a shopping center; the former Spadoni Construction shop at the corner of Stinson Avenue and Rosedale Street that has environmental concerns; Peninsula Shopping Center off Judson Street (senior center only), which is too small and not for sale; and the 5775 Soundview Drive building (seniors only) that’s no longer available.

Swim advocate approves

Heather Maher, who with Sarah Stancikas co-founded Swim Safe Gig Harbor two years ago to advocate for a public aquatics facility, said the study offers good spots for one. The duo, whose grassroots efforts compelled PenMet to conduct the swim center study, originally eyed the PenMet-owned, idle Peninsula Gardens property.

“The feasibility study confirmed that property is feasible, but they also looked at the remaining space where PenMet is building the community recreation center,” said Maher, who serves with Stancikas on the steering committee. “In their final presentation they recommended the spot behind the CRC would be the most cost-effective, which made sense to the whole committee. Everyone said yes, this looks fantastic. We approve of moving this forward.”

An early cost estimate for a 37,000-square-foot facility was pegged at $46.3 million. The CRC, PenMet’s largest undertaking to date, sports a $34.6 million total price tag. Maher and Stancikas have researched several western Washington aquatics centers and found they’ve been funded by a combination of public grants, private donations and the community.

“Funding is always a big topic, and that’s the reality,” Maher said. “It’s certainly a big project, but it’s not all on individual funding. It’s balanced.”

A look at what an aquatics center at PenMet’s CRC complex could look like.

Lane/lap pool, swim lessons top list

Steering committee members identified their top program priorities. They include competition and lap swimming, swim lessons, open recreation swimming, water polo, group physical therapy, diving boards and a toddler play area. Consultants translated them into a floor plan featuring an eight-lane, 25-meter lap pool with a diving well to the side and a separate recreation pool.

“They really did a thorough job,” Maher said. “What really stood out to me is that they listened to what we said the community needs. It’s not just a cut-and-paste aquatics center. It would be reflective of what Gig Harbor needs and wants. They listened to us and took all the feedback. That stood out to me.”

Senior center steering committee members were equally impressed with the consultants’ amenability, though their facility appears less straightforward. Its plan might require more of the late refinement of which PenMet’s Bujacich and Ryan spoke.

Committee members chose the largest of three program options, requiring the largest space (12,520 square feet). Their top priorities include a kitchen, banquet space, community room, makers space, tech room, arts and crafts, classes, games, mending/healing and exercise. Those translated to a floor plan featuring separate rooms for classes, arts and crafts, computers/library, dining, a lounge/café and two multipurpose rooms. The early estimated cost is $15.2 million.

Committee member Gary Parker, who hosts senior events at his BBQ2U restaurant, says he’s remained “neutral” throughout the process.

Consultants provided this very preliminary conceptual image of what a new senior center might look like.

‘Doing due diligence’

“They’re doing due diligence. You can never argue about somebody doing due diligence,” he said. “I don’t have rotten tomatoes or giant accolades to throw. I’m just trying to serve the community.”

Parker, Betty Lilienthal and other committee members proposed combining the senior center with another building such as the CRC or aquatics center to potentially save money. Except for a secure storage area, space can be shared with other groups.

“They were really receptive to it,” Parker said. “They listened to us post-meeting and tried to make concept drawings of that as well.”

Looking for interim fix

As construction of a new facility would take several years, Parker continues to pursue an interim senior and community center in an existing building. He and fellow committee member and businessman Joe Hillyer’s effort to acquire space at 5775 Soundview Drive fell through, but they keep searching.

One possible floor plan for a senior center.

“I want it to be seen as a stopgap measure to satisfy the immediate needs while these guys take the time to do it right,” he said.

Lilienthal supports the Parker-Hilyer efforts for a quicker solution and whichever of the Peninsula Garden or CRC sites that can be completed soonest.

“I want this to happen before I die, while I still have the mental and physical capacity to realize what we’ve got here,” she said, acknowledging the legacy for those who follow.

Not etched in stone

The report isn’t finished. When it is, it will only provide guidelines.

“A feasibility study brings out what are we looking at, are we all on the same page, where are the flaws, and we found some flaws, but we’re not finished. We’re far from finished,” Lilienthal said.

“I personally believe that PenMet has the interest of seniors at heart. And I think they’re going to provide the community with something very workable, very doable, very assessable, but it’s going to take a long time. … They have to prove they’re doing their due diligence. That’s their obligation, and to have transparency through the whole thing, and that’s exactly what’s happening.”

Seniors have been without a dedicated center since 2019 when Peninsula School District bought the Boys & Girls Club building on Skansie Avenue and converted it into Pioneer Elementary School. The Greater Gig Harbor Foundation has been operating a senior center out of Peninsula Lutheran Church since Summer 2021.

Foundation taking own road

The foundation continues to advance its own senior center effort. It has procured a 13.3-acre site at the corner of Point Fosdick Drive and 36th Street — near Lighthouse Christian School — for an 8,750-square-foot building. It says the facility would cost $6.9 million and be built within three years.

“We have been significantly involved in all efforts in the community toward these ends and are aware of the park district’s work,” CEO and President Emeritus Dr. Julie Ann Gustanski said in an email. “We know the certainty of forward progress for the district is many years down the road, and will rely upon a levy, which in turn relies upon a vote of the people.

“The needs assessment and feasibility analysis conducted for the Gig Harbor Senior Center is completed, site determined, preliminary site plan submitted and concept plans developed.”

PenMet has not determined funding needs for a senior center at this point, according to Board President Steve Nixon.

PenMet’s Bujacich expressed satisfaction with the feasibility study progress but reiterated that much work remains.

“I think it was a wonderful, collaborative process that brought the community together to explore these ideas,” she said. ‘I’m really happy with the process, but it’s still going. It’s not complete.”