A new aquatic center received a firm stamp of approval from Yankton city voters Tuesday, but it’ll be some time before you can float around in the lazy river.
The day after Tuesday’s vote on the property tax opt-out that makes up the majority of the facility’s funding, representatives from the city and Dive In Yankton (DIY) are starting to size up the new challenges ahead — design and construction of the new facility, along with continued fundraising.
DIY founder Josh Svatos told the Press & Dakotan that he’s still very proud of the community’s decision in Tuesday’s election.
"We’ve been working for almost two years with the end goal of a new aquatic facility," Svatos said. "We had the vision; we involved the community; we got as many people involved as we possibly could; we talked about being transparent through the whole process; and I’m just proud that Yankton showed up and supported this."
The vote was a resounding success for DIY and other proponents of a new aquatic facility. Of 8,657 active voters, 43.3 percent turned out with 2,481 voting in favor (66.21 percent) and 1,266 voting against (33.79 percent) the project. Of the 3,750 ballots cast, 46 percent (1,714) were absentee ballots. Proponents of the project had heavily encouraged early voting, with 1,189 (69.41 percent) of those absentee votes favoring the project versus 524 opposed (30.59 percent).
Results from the two voting centers were as follows:
• City Hall — 574 in favor (61.32 percent) and 362 against (38.68 percent).
• Fire Station No. 2 — 718 in favor (65.39 percent) and 380 against (34.61 percent).
Two ballots were also submitted completely blank despite there only being a single question.
By contrast, the last time the city held a vote for an aquatic center in 2005, the plan was handily defeated with 2,258 votes versus 713 in support of the opt-out. That election reported a 33 percent turnout.
Tuesday marks the second successful bond election for an aquatics facility in Yankton’s history, with the first being the election that made the present Fantle Memorial Park Pool a reality. In November 1945, Yankton voters overwhelmingly approved a $100,000 bond 1,020 votes to 309. Voters simultaneously approved a $15,000 bond in order to pay for related infrastructure. The pool was to be built on land, donated by the Fantle family, with stipulation that construction being in 1946. The pool itself opened in 1947.
Yankton City Manager Amy Leon told the Press & Dakotan that the citizens have made their voices clear.
"This is a project that’s been a long time in the making for the community," Leon said. "I’m pleased that the citizens came out to vote in such big numbers and were able to help clarify what it is they want to see in our community."
She said it sends a big statement that will resonate beyond Yankton.
"This is a big step forward for Yankton that helps us turn the corner," she said. "It says to the community and to the state, ‘We’re going to be doing things. We’re going to be changing things. We’re going to work on quality of life and we’re doing these big projects.’ I think it’s a cultural change for our community in a positive direction."
With the campaign and election out of the way, the real work can finally begin.
Svatos said DIY will mostly be focused on one of its long-standing commitments.
"We’re going to start sitting down with the engineers and doing some of those final designs, and we’ll be working with the city," he said. "As far as Dive In Yankton is concerned, our group’s going to continue to raise money."
He said interest is still high for donating to the project — especially after Tuesday’s election.
"We’ve already had individuals reach out to us today (Wednesday)," he said. "I had an individual on our Go Fund Me page give us $2,000. I’ve had private messages saying, ‘Hey, how do we fill out a pledge card?’ We’re going to continue to do what we do and that is deliver the most affordable aquatic facility that we possibly can."
Svatos said there won’t be dramatic deviations from what the people asked for during the design process.
"We’ve already selected what the rendering is going to look like and the citizens have said what they want to see as far as amenities and the final design on this," he said. "A lot of the heavy lifting is done, but now it’s fine-tuning everything, like the placement of those amenities inside that facility. We’re going to be at the table every step of the way and deliver the final product that’s something the community voted on, and we’re going to make sure we do this right."
Leon said the city is looking to partner with design professionals soon.
"What we’ll do is work with Stockwell Engineering to get their proposal for the design work and the engineering," she said. "We have the concept design, but there’s no detailed design. We’ll work with them to get that and have the commission consider a proposal for that design and engineering. Then we’ll put together a design team to help with that."
The design team would likely include representatives of the city, DIY and neighbors around Fantle Memorial Park. She expects to begin putting this team together in January.
"It will take a while to get designed, and then we’ll have to go through the bidding process and all of those things," Leon said.
She said that design work could take 6-8 months.
"The existing pool, as we know it today, would be open for swimming (next) season," she said. "What I’d like to do is have the project prepared so it can be bid out and awarded while there’s still warm enough weather for demolition to occur in the fall and early-winter months. The following year would be construction, so that whole season, the pool would likely be closed due to construction."
However, this, is a rough timeline as officials still have yet to hammer out all of the details.
Leon also spoke about the bond itself, which was up for election on Tuesday.
"It’s a 20-year property tax opt-out," she said. "It will begin for taxes assessed 2019, payable in 2020. That will start the 20 years. As we move forward, we’ll know about retiring the debt. If the bids come in lower than what we project, we can only collect the amount that the opt-out is for. We wouldn’t be looking to make the project bigger — once the debt’s paid off, we can’t continue to collect it for something else. It’s specifically for this project."
The project, which is estimated at $15 million, already has $2 million contributed by the City of Yankton and $2 million raised by DIY — $1 million of which was a donation from Mike and Cindy Huether. As a result of this major donation, the City Commission recently voted to name the new aquatic center The Huether Family Aquatics Center.
Leon said these contributions could easily lead to the bond receiving an early sunset.
"With the big donation that came in, as well as ongoing contributions that, from my understanding, are still on the table and will be coming in for the project, that will all go towards retiring the debt sooner," she said. "We have the ability to collect for 20 years, but may not need to."
Svatos also wanted to take time to credit those who made the future aquatic center a reality.
"Thank you to the folks that volunteered their time to walk with us in a parade or help us at a community event," he said. "Thanks to the folks that have pledged money and filled out pledge cards. A huge thanks to the kids in the penny drive. The Yankton (High School) AP Government class — what they did was short of miraculous. They canvassed the town, handed out ‘Yes For Yankton’ information, made phone calls, and guess what? Those kids plan on coming back to Yankton after they’ve gone on for post-secondary education. … And a big thanks to those who voted yes. We could not be where we are at today without those people going to the polls and voting ‘yes.’"
He added that he foresees an opening date in the next few years.
"At the end of the day, in a perfect world, we’re crossing our fingers — 2021, we’re taking our first jump off the high-dive," he said.
The Yankton City Commission’s canvassing of the election is set for Friday at noon at Yankton City Hall in Conference Room A.
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