JANUARY 28, 2010

Not a bad way for a little guy to kill time. Evan Simpson, 3, son of Lonnie and Shannon Simpson, appears well entertained as he waits for his father, Lonnie, to put away his big toys so they can go play.

A little story about it all

Part 3

By Ron Hanes

   This is the third article in a discussion that was sparked by a letter from seventh grade Orofino Junior High School student Cannon Wyman questioning the justice of a city-wide skateboarding ban. It was her request that one of our reporters write “a little story about it all.”

   To say the least, Orofino’s anti-skateboarding ordinance (Ordinance No 761) is unusual. While closing off the entire town to skateboarding without offering an alternative does set Orofino apart, the fact that Orofino has no swimming pool seems to be an even bigger concern of most people. From that discussion it became evident a lot of people had questions about the progress of the pool committee.

   Last week Dr. Dennis Harper from the Community Complex Committee contributed a lot of information and we should be grateful to him for giving us a better understanding of the problem the Community Complex Committee faced. To all of those others who have served, attended meetings, and really given it a try, my hat is off to you.

   I agree that those who sat on their rears should be restrained from criticizing those who did serve.  Also, Dr. Harper is right-on and I commend him for issuing a challenge to anyone who wishes to give it a try. The Committee has not called an annual meeting for over three years and recognizing that they could not attain their goals, he has now made the correct, and perhaps overdue decision to turn the reins over to others.

Let’s talk swimming pools

   I thought I knew everything about swimming pools until last week when I went to the Asotin County Family Aquatic Center. Have you ever heard of a zero depth entry pool? Are you familiar with a competition size, or an Olympic size swimming pool? Terms like this are going to come up in future conversations, so get on down to Clarkston and have a look. Take your sweats and your swim suit, as it’s very inexpensive to enjoy the modern facility. Or just go look around. The friendly staff is glad to assist you.

   Don’t make the mistake of comparing this facility, designed to serve a regional population of 75,000 or more, with anything that would be suitable for a community of Orofino’s size. Winter use of the Asotin County Family Aquatic Center is well below what they would like to see. For now, everybody would likely be better off supporting that indoor facility for winter recreation to insure that it continues to operate.

A fact

   The surest way to effectively scale back an indoor pool is to make it an outdoor pool. Outdoor, summertime-only swimming pools are often quite efficient to operate and, in a community of our size, if properly managed, may break even or can even expect to turn a consistent profit. Indoor pools, on the other hand, always operate in the red. When you have a facility like the Asotin County Family Aquatic Center you can be certain of this, the outdoor water features and pool are there to help support the operations of the indoor pools, not the other way around.

The gift

   Taken from the Community Complex Committee (CCC) minutes, February 28, 2002: “Motion by Paul Pippenger to accept offer…seconded…carried unanimously.” With the sound of the gavel, 5.165 acres of donated land came under the ownership of the CCC and so began a community’s quest to build a multi-million dollar community complex.

   Pippenger, regarded in all quarters as “able to recognize a good deal when he sees one,” wasted no time. As a Charter Director of the CCC, he had just taken the first step, a giant one, in the process of providing something for Orofino that he, and a lot of others, felt was badly needed. This five-plus acre tract of prime, flat, commercial property, which is a scarcity in this valley, was going to be the site for a new community swimming pool.

The Dream

   When it comes to having a sense of responsibility for their community, it’s pretty hard to even come up with words to describe Lonnie and Shannon Simpson. “Lonnie just loves this little community and so do I. It’s our home,” was Shannon’s reply when I asked her why anyone would give away a very valuable parcel of real estate as they had… now, nearly eight years ago.

   “Being able to do that was a dream-come-true situation for Lonnie and me. We both wanted to do something that would really benefit the community, especially the kids, and a community recreation facility seemed like it.”

   As noted in part one of this “Little story about it all,” people have a lot of questions concerning the Community Center. I felt it would be appropriate to pose some of the questions to those who donated the property.

Is the time up?

   As owners of Debco Construction, Lonnie and Shannon Simpson are busy people. Managing a construction company that employs 100 to 150 people and does $25 to $30 million in highway and heavy construction contracts annually takes a lot of effort and a lot of attention…particularly in these tough economic times. Add to that the demands placed upon their time by three-year-old “Master Evan Simpson.” So, rather than waste anyone’s time I got right to the point and asked Lonnie about a time limit on accomplishing something on the property.

   “Oh,” he paused, “I’m not going to allow that to be a point of concern at this time. I originally thought I’d give the process five to seven years. When I saw the scope of the project that was being proposed I kind of went seven to 10 years. From the beginning I believed people were reaching too far for something that would not be sustainable in this community, but I believed that practicality and common sense would eventually prevail and an affordable facility would be built.

   By saying affordable I never thought it would be profitable. Taxpayers or fundraisers will be needed to sustain the pool. It’s great to want the best for our kids, but maybe the adults in this process wanted too much. The kids will laugh louder and have a lot more fun on a scaled down facility than not having one at all.

   We have raised a whole generation of kids that will not know how much fun it is to go to a community pool and have fun. Who knows, we may have passed up a Michael Phelps in the process.”

   Shannon Simpson had also agreed with her husband’s initial concern about the grandiose nature of the project. “When I took the first look at that plan, I went oh-ooh! I realize it has been scaled back some, but still…how many millions is it?”

What first?

   Next, I ask Lonnie about locating a skate park only on the property. “Sure, right behind the credit union might be a great location for that. I’ll have to move some equipment, but there is plenty of room for a skateboard park and pool complex.  Everyone involved with the property just needs to sit down and hash out the logistics.”

   Given Cannon’s original query, this seemed like a fitting question to ask, what would you like to see developed first, a pool or a skate park?

   “I’d like a pool. But that’s for everyone to decide.” And, then he reflected, “I think what happened last time was we allowed our imagination and dreams of a grand facility to override our need to provide something here for the kids. After all, I think this community deserves as good of a facility as Boise or anywhere else. But at the end of the day we live in Clearwater County because we love it here and we have to wake up, smell the mountain air and come back to reality. Which is to say, we can’t afford this and…we go out and build what we can afford.”   

Reset our compass

   Simpson continued, “I know the Community Complex Committee worked very hard and has been committed to this whole process. But, I think being in the shadow of that aquatic center in Asotin County and current economic times have made for an impossible situation, which was really maybe for the better. It looks as if there has been a need for a reality check for some time. Looking back, I recall going to one of the first meetings and a lot of the meeting was taken up discussing what color it would be.”

   “Perhaps we need to reset our compass. We need a more realistic approach…something that meets our immediate needs. A summertime-only, no roof, no frills swimming pool, mainly for the kids. It can be designed for future modifications like a roof or slides, whatever. Everybody needs to scour the country for existing pools that are suited to a town of our size and decide what’s right for us. The community, that is if they want a swimming pool, needs to get this started. The kids could play a huge role in this part, too.”

   “Sometimes you can cut a much better deal on the cost of plans that are on the shelf somewhere rather than hiring an architect to start from scratch. Once we get a set of plans we can determine what costs are going to be and then proceed. Or, we can raise another generation without that opportunity to grow up at the pool.”

   I interviewed the Simpsons separately over the phone. First, Shannon, who was home with Evan, and later, Lonnie, who was on the Salmon River job with the crew. Shannon was to the point. “Lonnie and I haven’t talked about this much, so I better let him answer your questions. We were talking about how long it’s been and how time just seems to be slipping away.” Shannon added this thought, “You know, I think it might be time we just roll up our sleeves, round-up some shovels and get it done.”

   It was later when Lonnie’s interview was about completed and our topics began to broaden I quipped, “I kind of liked Shannon’s idea. “What’s that?” he asked. I told him and he laughed. “If she wants to do that, all of Debco’s equipment is certainly available with operators. We have forms too. I wonder if others would be willing to help. We also have the contract administration abilities to assist in the project which I’m willing to donate, as well.

   However, there must be a means to the end. We need to have the money in place to purchase all the materials for the project before the first scoop of dirt is moved. None of us want our hard work and money to go into a hole in the ground.”


   Would this be the solution to a long-stalled process in Orofino? After visiting with the Simpsons, I started calling some people that I thought would be qualified to do some of the work to build a swimming pool, or a skate park or about anything else. I asked if they would help. Here are their responses: (This is only a sampling.)

   Paul Nelson, “I’ll pull the plumbing permit and provide all the labor for the shower and restroom plumbing.” Rick Burnham, ”Sure I’ll help out on that.” Lou Mangum, ”When?” (He’ll be there.) John Anderson was down with the flu, but his wife Debbie assured me he’d be there if he survives. “My grandkids need that pool,” she said. Richie the Plumber, ”This is what we needed to go for all along. You bet!” Josh Steiner, ”Me… and my crew too. Thanks!” Aleta Slavin, ”I used to do construction scheduling for a living. We have a secretary and a phone in the salon and we’ll cover that part.” Don George, ”However I can help.” Jeff Dugger was out on a service call so Jocelyn his wife guaranteed, “Absolutely, he will be there.” A Rotarian said, ”Good, we need a dirty hands project.” Frank Slavin, ”I’ll need some help. I’ll get Lee.” Angela Carver, ”Great, Rick will help too. Thanks.” John Anderson (having survived the flu) “It’s got to be at least partially solar heated.” And Lonnie Simpson, ”I’ll see if some of our people want to donate some time. We have all     the programs to manage the construction out of our office.”

To add your name to the list…

   All of these people, along with (I’m sure) a lot of others, are willing and qualified to fill leadership roles in the construction process. These are not the only people who will be needed, though. If the decision is made to proceed along this path, according to Lonnie, everyone will be given an opportunity to sign-up. They will need laborers, painters, sweepers, helpers of all kinds. There will also be a need for people to write letters, baby-sit, run errands and make phone calls. Everybody could start right now by engaging in some brainstorming to come up with a model facility that’s affordable and suitable to our needs.

   Results from the Clearwater Tribune Opinion Poll this week confirm what the citizens have said before (and the CCC paid $8000 to hear it), “We will not (can not) support a mega-bucks Community Complex or anything else, especially when we don’t have any idea what it will cost to build or operate. Who buys things without looking at the price first?”

   The public needs to get educated and understand what is being talked about and what it will cost. With outdoor facilities, the price goes way down. Subtract from that the donated labor cost.  Then, subtract for the greatly deflated building material costs we have today. And then, subtract for all the money that gets raised by donations and fund raisers.

Here’s what they have

   As of right now here’s what the CCC has: five plus acres of prime commercial property (ready to build on), a skilled and highly motivated work force, all the forms and equipment to build whatever, a talented construction management team, approximately $23,000 in the bank and the support of a community and city government.

   Here’s what they need, plans and a plan, directors and committee members to provide leadership to develop plans and a plan, approximately $500,000 for material and the commitment of city government to get it done.

   Dworshak Recreation District Chairman Dave Owsley gave his approval to this approach. “We will support a project when the labor is donated as long as the right people are in place. That’s what we like to see. Our support is always aimed where we can stretch tax dollars the furthest so I assure you, we’ll have a look at this and we will consider a bond in November. We have continuing commitments to other recreation needs, but we will also see what is available for operating funds for a swimming pool.”

   There seems to have been some misunderstanding in the past so Owsley wanted to be very clear. “I, and the other Recreation District members (Mo Pare and Mike McDade) do not manage swimming pools…or anything else.”

   This and many other aspects of the project are now being evaluated and in a short time the answers should start to outnumber the questions.

Eight years…and counting

   Eight years is a long time to wait. During our interview, Lonnie Simpson never did say “quit” or “time’s about up”, or anything else like that. But, there was frustration in his voice when he talked about the land, the complex, the dream, and the fact that there are not yet any plans and the community is still in search of a feasible starting point.  

   Lonnie Simpson has never stopped giving to the project. A power line now serves the facility and four feet of imported fill and gravel have raised the finish elevation of the lot.  That amounts to over $100,000 worth of improvements.

   “The power is out there now and the lot is ready to go,” said Simpson, brightening. And then he concluded, “I just wish I had more time to devote to this planning process. We need plans in order to get started. Breaking the thing into components and proceeding as funds become available might be the solution. We need to re-evaluate what we have to work with and then we need a clear plan of action.”

   With Lonnie’s closing comment, I knew there was still time to accomplish their dream, but the clock is ticking. Our kids, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are growing up without a pool.

   The little story about it all continues, but this concludes the series “A little story about it all.”

   From Medford, OR to Butte, MT, from Boise to Newport, WA wherever I pursued this story and talked about Ordinance No. 761 and our town, with no skate park and no pool, nearly every person ended our conversation with this closing: “Good luck.”

   The sincerest wishes came from Lewiston. “We know it’s really a tough situation up there” (referring to Clearwater County). “There are a lot of people cheering for you in case you don’t know. Your community, coming together to accomplish this, might be of far greater positive consequence right now than the pool itself.”

   City council member and community leader Marguerite McLaughlin was upbeat too, “Together, we will get it done.”

Who first?

   Beaumont, Pleasantville, Orofino, what would a movie about our town be named? But, here’s a question we might all look forward to in the Clearwater Tribune Opinion Poll:

   Who should be the first one to swim in the new pool? One answer might be Dennis for his stunning mermaid suit and the indelible memories he created for us all. Or, another might be Ryan, because he’s the Mayor…and with a fish tail, he would make quite a memory too. Or perhaps, the first to take a swim should be Cannon Wyman for writing the letter that started the discussion that is the “Little story about it all.” (Watch the Clearwater Tribune for updates on this project.)