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Task force member Tim Riley also sits on the city’s parks and recreation committee.


“I’ll tell you right up front that we’ve got an issue with this building. But if we don’t buy this building, they turn out the lights. That’s the most important thing I want to convey to everyone in this room and in this community. I don’t think we’re fully prepared for them to turn out the lights. Sheldon Jackson just did this a couple of years ago, and I don’t think this community has fully appreciated what we lost, or what we continue to miss. And… with the amount of money they spend to keep this thing running they will walk away. We’ll be left with this empty building on this empty campus. I don’t think that’s what Sitka wants to convey to the rest of Southeast Alaska. It just bewilders me. Juneau spent $20 million on a pool , Ketchikan $23.5 million. Now sure, we have another pool and it’s fully used, but this one has a gym with it – for less money.”


Voters will see three ballot propositions on October 5 related to the Hames Center. Prop 6 will authorize $6-million in bonds to purchase, rehabilitate, and operate the center for twenty years. Prop 7 will ask voters to raise the property tax ceiling in the Sitka Charter by one-half mill. Prop 8 would allow the assembly each year for the next twenty years to set the property tax at 6-and-a-half mills to pay for the bonds.


Riley noted that Sitkans paid some of the lowest urban property taxes is the state. At 6 mills, or six dollars for every $1,000 of assessed value, Sitka’s rate was about half that of Wrangell or Ketchikan.



Riley referred to a 2009 engineering study commissioned by the city that put the cost of purchasing and rehabilitating the Hames Center at $13.5 million. But Riley said that figure was inflated by some repairs that were not immediately necessary – like paving the parking lot – and contingency and project management fees.


Riley said the city had negotiated the purchase price of the building and land down to $500,000. He felt the task force could then spend $1-and-a-half million of the bond funding right away for repairs, just to keep the doors open, and then write grants to repair the rest of the building over time. The remaining $4 million would pay for operations of the center not covered by user fees in the next two decades.


Riley admitted that it might be a mistake to buy the center, but compared to what other communities were spending on similar facilities, it was a great deal.


“It’s the quality of life that people live in Sitka for. It’s why they move here; it’s why they stay here. And I think it’s important for us to realize that part of our quality of life revolves around Hames. We’ve gotten a free ride out of that building for a long time. People have been taking advantage of Sheldon Jackson’s generosity for years and years. Utilizing that gym and pool. It’s got the only racquetball courts in town, it’s got this weight room, all these facilities. Go in there at lunch, people are playing these pick-up basketball games. You can’t see that at the schools. Schools have a different purpose.”


In response to a question from the audience, Riley said he was not certain how a new pool at Mt. Edgecumbe High School would affect Hames. He said nothing had been decided at Edgecumbe, and voters statewide had yet to approve the bond sale. Whatever the outcome of the general election in November, Riley said the Edgecumbe facility would not have a gym. The engineering estimate for repairing the Hames pool stands at $1.6 million. He could see deferring that expense, or foregoing the Hames pool altogether.


“I think that it would be possible to pave over, fill-in, or abandon the pool… My guess is that pool repairs are going to fall by the wayside if we get funding for another pool in Sitka. And I agree that three pools in Sitka is one or two pools too many.”


Riley said that the task force has entertained the idea of creating an indoor skate park at the pool, or his personal favorite, an ice rink.

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