Less than a day after the Eminence City Council approved spending $5,000 to fill in the city’s pool, the dump trucks were rolling.
Thursday morning, county dump trucks carted approximately 300 tons of dirt from the county garage to the pool to begin the process that effectively ends any hopes of reopening the much debated pool.
In a called meeting on Aug. 20, the city council voted 5-1 to approve filling in the pool. The vote came with little fanfare or discussion, which didn’t seem to surprise Mayor Jim Petitt.
“I think ... it has been discussed for two years,” he said Thursday. “I think everybody has formed their opinion.”
At its business meeting on Aug. 18, the council instructed Petitt to research what Shelbyville used when they filled in a swimming pool there. After further investigation, Petitt said Eminence Public Works director Bill Smith found that the Henry County Garage had 300 tons of fill the county was willing to part with, and that there was a window of opportunity to move the dirt. All Eminence had to do was pay for the fuel for the county’s trucks.
Petitt indicated that window of opportunity was very short.
“The way I interpreted it, if we didn’t get it done in the next week, it would be awhile before we could get it done,” he said.
In addition to the dirt, donated by the county, the city also used scrap rock from Liter’s Quarry to fill in the pool. During the called meeting, Petitt said that the quarry agreed to sell the scrap rock at a cost of $2.50 per ton, and the county agreed to haul that for the cost of the fuel to run the trucks. At the time, Petitt said if the city had to pay to haul the rock, it would cost $7.50 per ton.
Henry County Judge-Executive John Logan Brent said the fill has been sitting at the county garage for nearly four years. The fill came from the outside horse arena at the Henry County Fairgrounds. Four years ago, Brent said, the county removed the fill because the wrong had been ordered.
“When the public works department in Eminence called and asked if we had any fill, it was an opportunity to get rid of that sand,” Brent said.
He added that while the county donated the sand, the city would pay for the labor and truck usage to haul the rock.
With 1,350 tons of material needed to fill the pool, including the 300 tons of fill from the county, the tally came to approximately $5,000.
On Thursday, Petitt said that rising cost estimates were worrisome, particularly when engineering estimates received by the city returned at more than $300,000 to repair the pool.
“We know it’s never going to be paid back, the pool never made money,” he said. “The thing I think that bothered all the council, even though they didn’t discuss it a whole lot ... we’re looking at something that would be open six weeks, maybe twelve.”
If that much money is going to be spent on a project, he said, why not spend it on something children can use throughout the year.
Petitt said that several residents have said they’re glad the debate over the pool may finally be over. “I think it’s just ... that people wanted it done years ago, and it just didn’t get done,” he said.
Council member Shawn Bright, who made the motion to fill in the pool, said the council had good intentions when they looked at trying to save the pool.
“I go back to two years ago, (the council) had decided that the pool was at its end, they were going to fill it in,” he said. “The new council came to town, and we thought, ‘what else can we do? Is there a chance (to save the pool)?’
“We established that it is going to cost way too much money. For 2,000 citizens in our community, we just can’t do it.”
Bright said he considers filling in the pool the first phase of a larger project to come, something he said will be a step to the future for a great park.
And the future, Bright said, is precisely what the council must think about. “Ultimately, it’s our future, it’s our kids’ futures that we’re dealing with here,” he said.
Council member Treva Browning said she believes filling in the pool was the right move because the pool was a liability.
Along with Petitt and Bright, Browning said she couldn’t see raising taxes — something several officials said would have to be done in order to keep the pool open even after repairs — for something that’s open two to three months each year.
Other council members agreed, and said filling in the pool, though a difficult decision, is the right way to go.
“I hated it, but that’s what’s best for the city,” council member Danny Meadows said Monday. He noted that with the activities children are involved in, and sports starting earlier and earlier, the pool likely wouldn’t see much use from its target audience.
“When I was growing up, you saw kids out playing,” he said. “Now you don’t see them outside.”
The pool, Meadows said, was something the city couldn’t afford, and that they “might as well go on and be done with it.” Meadows said that he too couldn’t justify raising taxes to keep the pool going.
Council member Drane Stephens, who seconded Bright’s motion, said that once the council realized the expense of repairing the pool was too high, and the possible liabilities with leaving it sit were too great, “it’s time to move on and look for other opportunities to use the space for.”
Richard Thomas Jr., the lone council member to vote against filling in the pool. Thomas said he voted against Bright’s motion “because the mayor had me working ... for about six months raising money,” and that Petitt lied to residents while campaigning.
“We’ve got a lying mayor. He’s been all over town promising to open that pool. It’s been two years and he hasn’t done a thing.”
Petitt said he didn’t promise Thomas anything, and what Thomas heard was not necessarily what he said.
“What I said, all through this thing was, starting in the beginning was ... I will do the best I can to get this pool open for you. However, I will not put this city in debt ... also, the economy has changed greatly in two years.”
Each council member agreed that the division caused by the debate about the pool in the last eight months has been rough. Browning characterized the back biting as evil.
“It’s hard to deal with evil, it really is,” she said, adding that there’s a time for council members to be friends with each other — and with residents — and there’s a time for council members to think about city government.
Stephens said the division was unfortunate.
“I think that often times, people tend to let things that they really want separate reality and non-reality,” he said. “I think ... sometimes wanting something so bad will give you a skewed view of what’s really best for the community, or what’s economically feasible. It’s unfortunate that it’s come to that.”
He added that every member of the council would like to see the pool open, but to do so at any cost isn’t the right course of action.
Thomas declined to comment about the division and what his hope was for both sides of the debate.
Bright said he hopes that people on both sides of the issue can set aside personal agendas.
“Don’t think about am ‘I going to get elected, am I not going to get elected’ ... we’re all going to have to work here,” he said. “We all need to keep kids in mind, because kids are the ones that are going to be running the city years from now. We need to set (the city) up for the future.
“When all the dust has settled, we’re all still going to be citizens of Eminence.”
It was Bright who, earlier this year, made the motion that the city make “every reasonable attempt” to open the pool by June 1. He said that initially, he was excited about the idea that, it might be possible to open the pool for $22,000. Bright remained excited about opening the pool until the bids came in. The $250,000 bid the city received, he said, was just too much.
“I got calls from people who had been on the council before, know a little bit about the community, the budget, and I start looking into it myself, and I find that it’s just not the responsible thing to do to deplete $250,000 on a pool that’s going to be used, not even four or five months out of the year, and only targets kids that swim.
“That’s a lot of money for just one group of kids.”
Bright said the decision to fill the pool in was difficult, but the first step in what he, and other council members, hope will be a new future for the facility.
Bright hopes that the future means something similar to Harry Hill Park, which is heavily used. He said he envisions a pavilion, walking track, skate park and baseball field among other things.
Stephens said he too would like to see a pavilion, but also a playground area, horseshoe pits, cornhole set-up, and improvement and rework of the tennis courts. While Stephens hasn’t made up his mind about a skate park, the idea, he said, is to research all available ideas, and find something that “kids and families can do together.”
That all must be done, Meadows said, with everyone working together, and that the city should have all the information it needs before asking for public support.
“It’s not going to happen if we don’t all get together and make it happen together,” he said. “We’re going to continue to be on TV.
“I try to tell everybody that’s running, let’s throw the gloves down and do what’s right for the future.”
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