Pasco moves to hire owner’s rep to lead aquatics center project

Pasco is moving to hire an owner’s representative to lead its efforts to build a $40 million aquatics center, one of the largest municipal projects in the Mid-Columbia development pipeline.

The city’s voters approved a modest sales tax hike in April to support debt to construct the center and support future operations. The tax took effect on Jan. 1 and will begin accumulating in the “aquatics center” account in March.

The Pasco Public Facilities District, the quasi-independent entity responsible for the project, is expected to solicit statements of qualifications from potential contractors as early as January. The district is led by an appointed board and works in partnership with the city.

“This is absolutely necessary,” said Marie Gillespie, vice president of the board, when it met in December.

Matt Watkins, the former city mayor who is now managing the project for the district, said selecting an owner’s rep is complicated, but necessary for challenging projects like building an aquatics center that will attract visitors from across the region.

School districts, cities and other entities often rely on hired representatives to manage complicated projects. Local school districts and fire departments have employed them to advise on the best approach to contracting and to manage day-to-day details.

Watkins said several Tri-City businesses with experience have already reached out to ask about the work.

Securing voter approval to build the aquatics center in 2022 was a critical step. But 2023 will demand ever-more complicated decisions as Pasco pursues its long-held dream of an aquatics center.

The coming months will see the district take the steps it needs to begin. That includes updating the feasibility study it last reviewed in 2022, selecting a site (most likely at the Broadmoor area), creating a financial plan, issuing revenue bonds to pay for construction, and of course, hiring designers to create a vision and contractors to build it.

Watkins projects a June 1, 2025, ribbon cutting, which he acknowledged is later than the fall 2024 opening he initially hoped for. After touring comparable facilities and meeting with people who have built them, he realized 2024 was an overly ambitious target.

At its final meeting of 2022, the public facilities district met in private to discuss a potential site, though it took no action afterward.

The aquatics center likely will be built on the west side of town since Pasco’s Memorial Aquatic Park and its 50-meter pool are on West Shoshone Street, which is closer to the east side. In a separate proposal, the Pasco School District is partnering with the city on a project to install a removable enclosure at Memorial Pool to extend the swimming season beyond its traditional Labor Day end.

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