The distance the team is traveling now — between Platte City, Mo., and Fort Leavenworth, Kan. — is about 20 miles. The distance they will have to travel — from the high school to the Platte County North Community Center — is less than two miles. The community center is where the school district and county are cooperating to build an indoor swimming facility that the district cannot afford to build on its own.
“During challenging financial times, we find ourselves looking for ways to improve programs for children with less revenue,” Platte County R-III Superintendent Michael Reik wrote in a message to the school community earlier this month. “We have found partnerships to be effective in stretching your tax dollars.”
During their September 15 board meeting, Platte County’s Board of Education voted to approve participation in the project, which Platte County had already started to plan. The county is funding construction with proceeds from a half-cent sales tax dedicated to the Parks and Recreation Department. Even if the school district wanted to build such a facility on its own, it cannot. According Missouri’s constitution, the only way public school districts in the state can fund building projects is through bond sales, and there is a limit on the amount of debt a district can take on. When Platte County R-III refinanced its bonds earlier this year, disclosure documents showed about $64.6 million in debt and a debt limit of $65.7 million.
This district-county partnership is not without detractors. One local newspaper has been critical of the agreement. In an editorial last Friday, Ivan Foley — editor of The Landmark — wrote that “the county has more money than it can possibly spend on meaningful parks and recreation projects over the next 10 years.” He contends it would have been better to cut the sales tax than to build a natatorium, adding that “when you’re spending $5.4 million on a swimming pool, you’ve got to call it something besides a swimming pool to help justify the expense, right?”
Several years ago, local residents participating in focus groups told the Platte County Parks and Recreation Department that although their greatest need was for hiking trails, they were most interested in better swimming facilities in the north of the county. The citizens’ desire intersected with the high school swimmers’ need for a place to train and compete.
When the natatorium opens, the high school swimmers will have access to eight lap lanes, spectator seating and team locker rooms. For the first time since they started competing in 1995, Platte County R-III will be able to host a home meet.
In addition, they will be spending their money closer to home. The district spends about $35,000 each year renting facilities and transporting swimmers. Once the new natatorium opens, the district will pay a user fee of $25,000 a year to the county instead. Their agreement with the county is for a 20-year term with an option to renew. The district will also be reimbursing the county for a portion of the construction costs.
Under the terms of their Cooperative Agreement, Platte county will work with the district on planning and construction. When the district signed the agreement earlier this month, the county already had commissioned conceptual plans. The county retains naming and advertising rights to the facility. It will also be responsible for overseeing construction and day-to-day operation and maintenance once the new facility opens in the fall of 2013.
Although Platte County will be paying all the construction costs up front, the district has agreed to reimburse the county for 25 percent of the natatorium building and pool, 50 percent of the locker rooms and 100 percent of the spectator areas and a separate entrance reserved for swim team events. The total amount of this reimbursement will be more than $1.3 million.
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