Roeland Park won’t replace failed aquatic center dome, meaning pool will be closed for 2018-19 winter season

The Roeland Park Aquatic Center will be closed for the second winter in a row after the council decided against replacing the dome.

Roeland Park will not continue efforts to replace the Aquatic Center’s failed dome with a similar structure for the 2018-2019 winter season, councilors unanimously agreed Monday.

Councilmembers changed course on requesting the Johnson County Park and Recreation District to collect an insurance claim to replace the dome for the upcoming winter season after encountering several costly roadblocks – the most notable being a new building requirement for a safety restraint mechanism that would keep the dome from falling onto the pool and potentially trapping swimmers, if it ever fully deflated.

The safety restraint system, as well as new doorways and lighting, would increase the dome replacement cost by $200,000 more than what was stipulated in the original insurance claim. The safety mechanism also requires the installation of a permanent foundation that would cut into the pool’s deck and potentially walkways and the diving area.

The structure would change the look and function of the pool during the fall/winter season as well as the summer, which was a major point of concern for the council.

Councilmembers also heard Monday that Travelers Insurance was not willing to cover the additional cost associated with the safety restraint system and many members expressed skepticism that the JCPRD board would offer to shoulder the cost.

Mayor Mike Kelly pointed out that $200,000 was equal to almost 3 mills in property taxes.

Councilmembers have been working to plan for the future of pool operations after learning that JCPRD will no longer continue with its joint-funding agreement after the contract expires in May 2019.

Several councilmembers and Mayor Kelly emphasized Monday that the city would continue to pursue solutions that could allow the pool to remain open during the fall and winter months in future years.

Councilmember Michael Poppa said it was “a sad day” having to say that Roeland Park won’t have a year-round pool “right now” but that he also thought of the decision as a new beginning.

Prior to the vote councilmembers heard from supporters of the pool’s winter season, including Bishop Miege High School swim coach Dennis Mueller. Mueller told councilors how the swim team struggled to find alternative lane rentals for practice after the Aquatic Center’s dome was damaged beyond repair in October.

Mueller said he was uncertain how the school’s growing swim teams could continue without viable practice space.

“Without your pool our swim program could die,” Mueller said.

Mayor Kelly said he appreciated pool users voicing their concerns Monday and pled with them to express their interest in a continued Roeland Park-JCPRD partnership to the JCPRD board.

Councilmember Becky Fast, who has served on the city’s Pool Advisory Committee for several years, choked back tears as she addressed the audience and promised to continue to look for a solution that would allow pool use that extended past the summer. Fast said could not understand why she had gotten “nothing but resistance” from JCPRD to secure additional support.

“We will fight for more,” Fast said.