Ypsilanti City Council gives priority to Rutherford Pool rebuild over pedestrian bridge project
The Ypsilanti City Council voted 4-3 Tuesday night to give priority to rebuilding the Rutherford Pool over constructing a pedestrian bridge across the Huron River.
The city is submitting grant applications seeking money from the same state pot for both projects. Should the state determine that the projects are equal on all of the grant's other criteria, but not enough money is left to fund both, then the prioritization will serve as a "tie-breaker."
Tom Perkins | For AnnArbor.com
The Friends of the Rutherford Pool and the city, supported by the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission, are each applying for $300,000 Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grants to help fund their respective projects.
Since the Friends are not eligible to receive grant funds, the city must submit the applications and receive the money. The Friends will prepare that application, but the city prepared the application for the bridge. The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund is operated by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, and the funds can be used for developing recreation facilities.
The prioritization won't be weighed in the DNR’s initial assessment of the applications, which uses a point system to score each. Council’s prioritization will only be considered if there is a tie between the two applications and only enough money left for one.
That means council’s support is likely to be symbolic, but the issue was an emotional one for residents, who gave more than 90 minutes of impassioned public input that even brought one speaker to tears.
The city is seeking $300,000 in grant funds and Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation is offering $275,000 of its own matching funds for the $589,000 bridge project. The Ypsilanti Downtown Development Authority will contribute up to $25,000 to the effort. The city would be responsible for providing some funds for regular upkeep and bridge maintenance.
The pedestrian bridge would connect the Border to Border Trail from Riverside Park to the Water Street property under the Michigan Avenue bridge.
The Friends are seeking to raise $850,000 for capital costs to replace the aging South Congress Street community pool. They hope to raise $550,000 by the end of 2011 to start phase one of the rebuild and focus on phase two funds in 2012. The Friends are asking for a $300,000 Natural Resources Trust Fund grant and would match $150,000, or 50 percent, through their own fundraising efforts.
The city has no obligation to the Friends except to support and submit the application. But the city is offering its support only if the Friends complete the grant application without city assistance by the April 1 deadline. They also must generate the matching funds by Dec. 1 and develop a five-year operating plan, which may include incorporating as a non-profit.
Lisa Wozniak, who is a member of the Friends, said she was pleased the council chose to give the Rutherford Pool project priority, but she called both options “top notch” projects and applications.
At the beginning of council’s discussion, council member Dan Vogt sought a "definitive answer" from Assistant City Manager April McGrath on whether council’s choice would only affect a decision if there is a tie and no money left to fund both projects.
McGrath said that was the only scenario, to which Vogt replied that the chances of that happening were “one in 100,000."
“More like one in a 100,000,000,” McGrath replied.
Proponents of both projects offered a range of reasons council should give priority to their respective causes. Both made cases for how each project would benefit Ypsilanti economically. Those supporting the bridge said it costs less and better fits the Natural Resources Trust Fund's criteria, while those who favored the pool contended it needs roughly the same amount for a rebuild.
Pool supporters — including several who came from surrounding municipalities — said the facility provides recreation for children and families from a diverse background.
“I don’t use the pool very much, but I have never seen a community of people come together as they have around this pool,” Ypsilanti resident Jacque Eccles said.
Bodary said council members were to vote on which project was more important to the community, not which better fit the grant criteria.
“I don’t feel there’s any question that the pool is more important to the residents of the city, young and old, from all walks of life, and even out in the township,” he said.
Vogt said he was surprised to discover the amount of support the pool has within the community as he began talking to residents about the issue over the last month. He also said he thinks it plays an important role in the city.
“Recognizing how important it is for those children having (something) constructive to do, in my mind, that was the tipping point,” he said.
Council member Pete Murdock said he could see reasons to support both, but ultimately joined Mayor Paul Schreiber and Brian Robb in voting against the resolution giving priority to the pool.
“From a project-ready standpoint I think the trail is No. 1, from other standpoints I think the pool is No. 1,” he said.