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RCC pool project draws deep debate

The replacement of a dehumidification system for the indoor swimming pool at Reeves Community Center, costing nearly $400,000, is in the works — but only after Mount Airy officials dove into a deep debate over the issue.

“It’s needed,” Assistant City Manager Darren Lewis said of the project, one that has existed long before Lewis took that position in February after serving as Mount Airy parks and recreation director and witnessing it firsthand.

“Indoor pools are humid areas,” he explained regarding the need for dehumidification to ensure good air quality as a result. “It’s a required facility need.”

The Mount Airy Board of Commissioners recently approved the project in a 5-0 vote, but not without concerns being raised by one of its members, Commissioner Jon Cawley.

While supporting that measure — and eventually making the motion for its passage — Cawley believed the matter had not received sufficient public discussion given that such a large financial outlay was involved.

“I think it’s a good expenditure,” he added, but “when you spend that kind of money, it ought to be discussed publicly.”

Cawley raised his concerns during a council meeting in October. This included asking to have the dehumidification matter removed from a consent agenda — containing items approved with a single rubber-stamp vote without discussion — to the regular agenda to allow debate.

Stanley Heating and Air Conditioning, based in Elkin, subsequently was awarded the contract for the job, due to being the lowest bidder submitting proposals.

The projected cost will be $389,000 for the job, which has an estimated completion date of February 2023, according to City Manager Stan Farmer.

Meeting records presented

Although he agreed the project is something the city should do in support of its recreation program, Cawley said the public should have been better informed about the issue that he argued received little open discussion based on his recollections.

He asked at the meeting when the project was approved for evidence to be provided of that during a latter session.

Before that occasion rolled around, examples of the dehumidification/ventilation project at Reeves Community Center having been discussed at meetings were retrieved from board minutes and made available to commissioners ahead of that.

“It was actually discussed six different times in public meetings,” Commissioner Steve Yokeley said. “I had hoped it would be voted on a couple of years ago.”

One of the last times the matter arose was earlier this year when various municipal projects were recommended for funding using Mount Airy’s federal COVID-relief allocation of $3.2 million from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

At that time, $400,000 for the indoor pool HVAC/air system at Reeves Community Center was the biggest single expense proposed on a city government to-do list using American Rescue Plan Act funds.

The project at Reeves also had been mentioned publicly on other occasions, according to the minutes retrieved, including in 2019 when Yokeley inquired about the need to include the pool dehumidification among capital improvement requests.

Those items relate to major building- and equipment-related needs for municipal facilities or departments.

“That is just an example of the one of the things that don’t need to be put off,” Yokeley stated in 2019, referring to projects such as the RCC dehumidification that city officials have tended to delay from year to year.

Former City Manager Barbara Jones also included equipment at the center’s indoor pool as a budget priority in June 2021 — which wasn’t actually funded during the next fiscal year that began soon after on July 1.

“It’s actually been in the capital budget for many, many years,” Lewis said.

Cawley responded during the most recent meeting that his main concern was ensuring that the project had received proper public discourse. He seemed to imply this had not occurred with situations in which it received casual mention at meetings or was included among pages of requested capital projects on a long-range bases taking up many pages.

“If you see that as discussion, just consider me wrong and I’m fine with that,” Cawley commented.

“My issue was the public did not know about it,” he said.

A long list of equipment and tasks is included in the bid proposal from Stanley Heating and Air Conditioning, headed by a three-compressor dehumidifier with three stages of control.



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